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Where is international outcry for jailed Bahraini opposition leader?

A memorial marking the number of days Sheikh Ali Salman has been imprisoned in Bahrain. (WNV/Nada Alwadi)

Protesters in Manama capital light candles marking 200 days since the imprisonment of Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salam. (WNV/Alya Radhi)

On June 16, my husband Sheikh Ali Salman was sentenced to four years in prison for publicly inciting hatred, disturbing public peace and inciting civil disobedience of the law in Bahrain. His lawyers issued several statements in which they complained that the court prevented them from making an argument. The ruling received wide international condemnation.

As the secretary general of al-Wefaq, the largest political party in Bahrain, Sheikh Ali is a prominent and influential political leader. He took his first steps on the path of nonviolent struggle for freedom and equality 20 years ago. Ever since, he has maintained a firm vision that a democratic transition can be achieved in Bahrain through a peaceful movement.

His strong belief in tolerance and pluralism can be seen in the speeches he gave during the popular protests that erupted on February 14, 2011. “We’re in no need for Molotov cocktails or stones, but we need courage to continue in our peaceful and nonviolent activism,” he said in a famous speech before his arrest in 2014. “Our slogan is nonviolence, even if we’re imprisoned or killed. One day, the global conscience will move and we will be victorious by God’s will.”

Since 2011, Bahrain has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations demanding major political change in a state that has seen a single prime minister since its independence from British colonialism in 1971. At least seven men were killed, as the regime carried out multiple attempts to crush the protests centered at Pearl Roundabout, the historic monument in the capital city Manama.

In March 2011, the regime finally called in foreign troops from neighboring states, which led to the deadliest and most brutal crackdown in Bahrain’s modern history. The gigantic protest was shattered and the Pearl monument was demolished.

Following international pressure and criticism, Bahrain called in an independent commission of inquiry, which released a damning report that documented extrajudicial killings and deaths resulting from torture in police custody. But this did not lead to any easing of the regime’s iron fist on the popular movement, which is still ongoing. International reports continue to document arbitrary arrests and harsh court rulings by what Human Rights Watch described as “a system of injustice.”

Sheikh Ali is being prosecuted for his open disapproval of the exclusion of citizens based on ethnic and sectarian grounds, and for his harsh criticism of the autocratic rule under which Bahraini citizens are deprived of the right to democratically choose their government.

His case is part of a larger crisis that has rocked this country over the past four years. Who is paying the price? Without doubt, it is the people, who must bear arrest, detention, exile, layoffs from their jobs, repression and the loss of loved ones. Sheikh Ali’s case is a people’s cause and tells the story of a nation’s struggle for legitimate demands.

The Court of Appeals is to review his sentence on September 15. Will the Bahraini government move closer to political agreement with the opposition? The release of Sheikh Ali Salman could be a start. The court’s decision will be an indicator on where Bahrain will be heading in the coming years.       ​

More than 200 days after his arrest, the people of Bahrain who have taken bullets with bare chests remain committed to the peaceful movement for democracy, freedom and equality. This nation deserves attention and support from the international community and international rights organizations for its legitimate demands by working to reach an agreed-upon political solution. It is not in Bahrain’s interest — nor would it be good for the region — for the four-year-old turbulent situation in the country to continue.

My husband, Sheikh Ali Salman, is facing a politically-motivated trial for his patriotic stance and his criticism of the state’s suppression of the people. Most importantly, however, he is the key to any consensus, dialogue and negotiation to reach a resolution in Bahrain. I therefore remind the international community of its responsibility to press for his immediate release and to have his charges dismissed.