UN rights experts urge Bahrain to release arrested opposition leader

Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Photo: Mads Andenas

4 February 2015 – A group of United Nations human rights experts are urging the Government of Bahrain to release opposition politician and religious figure Sheikh Ali Salman who was arrested in December 2014 on charges that include inciting change of regime by non-peaceful means.

“The charges appear to stem from the Government's dissatisfaction with opinions that Sheikh Salman expressed in public speeches and televised interviews, in which he called for the establishment of a democratic regime and for Government accountability,” the human rights experts said in a press release issued earlier today.

“If this is indeed the case, his arrest and prosecution would amount to a breach of his fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion or belief,” they continued. “We have asked the Government of Bahrain to clarify the situation and to provide more information on these allegations.”

Sheikh Salman's arrest came only two days after his re-election for a fourth term as the Secretary General of Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Bahrain's main opposition political party. The UN experts voiced further concern at allegations that his hearing on January 28, when he was denied bail, did not take place in accordance with due process standards as his legal representative was allegedly not allowed to examine the evidence to prepare for his defence.

The experts commenting on the matter include Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

On a number of occasions, UN experts have expressed grave concerns to the Bahraini Government concerning the harassment and arrest of human rights defenders, including the sisters Maryam Al-Khawaja and Zainab Al-Khawaja, and Ghada Jamsheer – three women human rights activists exercising their rights to free expression and free association.

In addition, the Organization's human rights experts have repeatedly urged the authorities to review Bahraini laws and practices to be compliant with the country's obligations under human rights law, especially the freedoms of expression and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.

Meanwhile, in their press release today, the UN experts said indications that peaceful demonstrations in support of Sheikh Salman had been disbanded by the authorities through the use of force were “particularly worrying,” citing reports that at least 150 people were arrested and around 90 were injured during the protests and in clashes with the police. At the same time, another 72 people had their Bahraini citizenship revoked in what the experts said was “yet another attempt by the Government of Bahrain to clamp down on opponents.”

“We urge the Government of Bahrain to promptly release all those who have been detained for peaceful expression of their views,” the UN experts declared.

UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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