Bahrain doubles jail term of oppn leader

DUBAI: A Bahrain court more than doubled a jail sentence against opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman yesterday, in a ruling his bloc warned risked stoking fresh unrest. The appeals court increased the sentence for charges of inciting violence to nine years from the original four, a judicial official said. Bahrain’s public prosecutor said the stiffer sentence related to “crimes of promoting change to the political system by force”, according to state news agency BNA.

Salman was sentenced in June to four years in prison for inciting unrest. Defence lawyers appealed in September, saying that prosecutors had presented as evidence excerpts of his speeches that were taken out of context. Prosecutors responded with their own appeal asking the court to reverse Salman’s earlier acquittal on more serious charges of seeking to overthrow the political system by force.

“He was in the habit of such incitement and promoted (it) in his speeches on various occasions, including extremist appeals in which he justified acts of violence and sabotage, provoking regime change and calling for jihad (holy war) as a form of religious duty,” BNA said, quoting the prosecution. The court extended his prison term as a result. His lawyers said they have 30 days to appeal against the ruling.

Salman’s Al-Wefaq bloc condemned the verdict as “unacceptable and provocative”, warning that it “entrenches the exacerbating political crisis” in Bahrain. Human rights group Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing the verdict as “clearly” politically motivated. And Britain’s visiting Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond tweeted: “Raised Sheikh Ali Salman sentence in Bahrain today. Understand there is a further stage in the legal process – will follow case closely.”

Al-Wefaq was Bahrain’s largest parliamentary bloc until its 18 MPs walked out in February 2011 in protest at the use of violence against demonstrators. It said the verdict “reflects the Bahraini regime’s settlement to reject national reconciliation by turning its back on international calls urging to address the country’s political crisis”. The ruling also “further extends the political crisis in Bahrain amid an absence of national consensus and widening human rights abuses,” it said, pledging to continue to call for “inclusive political reform”.

This article was published on 30/05/2016