Bahrain: free teacher trade unionists!
JALILA AL-SALMAN with daughter after earlier release
Education International (EI), representing teaching unions in many countries, is calling for messages to the authorities in Bahrain, urging them to review the charges and convictions and commute sentences of all teachers, teacher unionists and students charged with offences related to exercise of freedom of speech and right to assemble.
The appeals of the Vice-President and President of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA) , due today, Sunday 11 December, are amongst EI’s concerns. Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb are appealing sentences issued in September by the military National Safety Court of First Instance to three and ten years’ imprisonment, for their involvement in peaceful protests last March. Seven other BTA board members are also on trial and 76 teachers have been sacked for similar baseless reasons.
A larger number of teachers are still suspended. Most BTA Board members and sacked and suspended teachers have had the opportunity to share their experience with Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, during his mission to Bahrain in November. All reported on the unjust treatment they suffered. The revision of the convictions is also highlighted in the strong recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) . On 23 November, it recommended the Bahraini authorities “to review convictions and commute sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence, or, as the case may be, to drop outstanding charges against them.”
The TUC and Amnesty International also called for the release of Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, two members of the Bahrain Teachers' Association (BTA) who were arrested during the unrest in March and April 2011.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has written to HE Rashid Al-Khalifa, Bahraini Ambassador to the UK, expressing serious concerns over their continued detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. He urged the Government to immediately release them and to hold to account those responsible for their arrest and possible abuse.
Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb, together with several other board members of the BTA, were arrested in March and April 2011. While their colleagues were released, they were brought to trial before the National Safety Court of First Instance (a military court) on 15 June on charges which include 'inciting hatred towards the regime', 'calling to overthrow and change the regime by force', 'calling on parents not to send their children to school' and 'calling on teachers to stop working and participate in strikes and demonstrations'.
After further hearings on 22 and 29 June - their trial was transferred to a civilian court and postponed until further notice.
Jalila al-Salman's house in Manama was raided on 29 March by more than 40 security officers. She was reportedly taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) in Manama where she remained for about a week during which she was reportedly beaten, including with objects, and held in solitary confinement. She is believed to have been transferred to the custody of the military and held there for around two months, before being transferred again to a detention centre in 'Issa Town in Bahrain. Jalila al-Salman's family were not aware of her whereabouts until soon after her transfer to the detention centre in 'Issa Town and have only been allowed to see her there on two occasions.
Amnesty International has reviewed statements issued by the BTA. One of them, published on 13 March, called on teachers and employees of the Ministry of Education to go on strike, and on parents not to take their children to school during large-scale demonstrations in Bahrain. Amnesty International has also listened to speeches delivered by Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb that made similar appeals. Amnesty says it has seen no evidence that either of them advocated violence of any kind in these or other activities.
Consequently, although the organization does not have the full details of the evidence presented so far in the trial, it believes that they are likely to be prisoners of conscience detained solely for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly as leading members of the BTA.
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