Two former leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA) received prison sentences on Sunday when an appeal court upheld a guilty verdict in what Amnesty International called another injustice.
Family members called the ruling a “nightmare”. Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb was sentenced to five years in prison while Jalila al-Salman – who was not present in the courtroom – was handed a six-month sentence. The new ruling reduces their sentences from 10 years’ and three years’ imprisonment, respectively.
Following his arrest after calling for a teachers’ strike early in 2011, Abu Dheeb has already spent some 18 months in prison, while al-Salman spent five and a half months in prison before being released on bail. Amnesty International considers Abu Dheeb to be a prisoner of conscience and will grant the same status to al-Salman if she is returned to jail.
“With this guilty verdict, Bahrain’s justice system has added to a growing list of outrageous injustices. Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally, and Jalila al-Salman must not be put behind bars – these convictions must be quashed as a matter of urgency,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“All these teachers did was to call for a strike in their role as trade union leaders – this is merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association and is certainly not a crime.”
Their lawyers have said they will appeal the decision before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation.
Abu Dheeb and al-Salman were initially sentenced before a military court last year for, among other things, using their positions as vice-president and president of the BTA to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process, "inciting hatred of the regime" and "attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force".
Prior to that, they were held in solitary confinement, where they say they were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and forced to sign “confessions” that they did not even read.
Amnesty International urges the Bahraini authorities to investigate fully the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in custody, make the results public, and hold those responsible to account.
Following Sunday’s verdict, Abu Dheeb’s daughter Maryam Abu Dheeb told Amnesty International: “I was sure this was coming to an end. This is a nightmare.”
Minutes after the verdict, she also posted the following message on social media site Twitter: “Mama's tears are heartbreaking .. 563 days were hard .. 5 years are a nightmare.”
Amnesty International believes neither or them used or advocated violence and is not aware that any such evidence was presented during their trials.