The sentencing of Ibrahim Sharif, a leading opposition figure and former Secretary General of Waad, to one-year in prison is a clear signal from Bahrain that it will continue to opt for repression over reform.
Sharif was sentenced today to serve another year in prison, on charges of inciting hatred following a speech last July that called for peaceful democratic reform. He was arrested following the speech, despite only having been released from a 4-year sentence 3 weeks earlier. Sharif was arrested at the start of the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain during the period of emergency rule and was amongst the “Bahrain 13″ prominent jailed opposition leaders.
His arrest so soon after his initial release suggests the campaign against him is a very targeted form of repression in which the authorities are bent on silencing his voice. Sharif has been a constant thorn in the side of the authorities, his secular Sunni background cutting across the Governments false characterisation as the opposition movement being entirely sectarian in nature.
The sentence affirms that Bahrain is insistent on keeping both Sharif and Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of Al Wefaq, detained, despite leading the two largest opposition societies. Both Al Wefaq and Waad are members of the democratic opposition coalition, that calls for peaceful democratic reform towards a constitutional monarchy, as well as both being signatories to the Non-Violence Declaration.
The detention of the leading representatives of the main opposition societies sends a clear message: Bahrain is rejecting a political dialogue and engagement with the opposition, thereby refusing to put an end to the current political crisis. This is a crisis that waged over 5 years and is having a negative impact on the economic and social situation of Bahrain, as well as the political.
Opposition societies have consistently called for a political dialogue to discuss reform proposals, but serious talks have failed to materialise. Both Sharif and Salman are figures that must be involved in any talks with the Government and belong at the negotiation table, not behind bars. The international community has regularly called for such a dialogue to take place in Bahrain, as well as the release of Salman and Sharif.
The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement affirms that the freedom of these two leading figures is inextricably linked to the progress of a serious national dialogue in Bahrain. Confidence and trust are key components to make any talks successful and the release of peaceful political figures is the absolute minimum to restore trust in Bahrain.
Within this context we believe it is fundamental that the international community understands the relationship between political dialogue and the freedom of opposition leaders. Calls for dialogue are hollow and abstract unless accompanied by serious efforts to release these individuals. We hope that in the coming days international governments will both publicly and privately register their disproval of this latest repressive act, as part of a wider process to promote an end to the crisis in Bahrain, through genuine democratic reform that meets the aspirations of the Bahraini people.