Also published on Global Voices Advocacy
Arabic version here.
Nine months after leading blogger and human rights activist Ali Abdulemam was arrested along with other political and human rights activists in Bahrain, a military court has sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The rest of activists face sentences that range from two years to life imprisonment, in the context of a crackdown to crush dissent in the country that started in September. The verdicts were immediately condemned by human rights groups such as Reporters without Borders and Amnesty International.
Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, reports:
“The trials appear to be politically motivated, since we have not seen any evidence that the activists used or advocated violence”.
AI also reports that at least 500 people have been detained in Bahrain since pro-reform protests began in February, four have died in suspicious circumstances in detention and almost 2,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from work. Crackdown against opposition to the ruling dynasty has also reached the point of shooting at peaceful protesters and locking up the nurses and doctors that treat them.
Ali Abdulemam, who is a father of three, was sentenced in absentia. He is known as “the godfather of blogging”, after years of work as a blogger and human rights activist, mainly through his portal BahrainOnline.org, one of the Kingdom’s most popular pro-democracy outlets. Because of his relevance in promoting democratic reforms and freedom of speech in the region through the use of digital tools, his arrest triggered a global campaign during his first ordeal back in 2005. His arrest again in September raised an outpour of support and solidarity, with bloggers from all over the world demanding his release and the release of the other activists. His Facebook group has more than 2.600 members and is growing rapidly fueled by the buzz created over twitter by many users.
Shortly after being released on February 23, Abdulemam disappeared again, and neither his family nor any of his closest friends know his whereabouts.
Bahrain´s authorities continue to ignore international pressure, which has resulted into cancellation of the prestigious Formula 1 Grand Prix race in Bahrain for 2011, after the F1 teams unanimously objected to the race date due to the human rights abuses in the country.
Human rights organization Front Line Defenders reports:
“The verdict and the fact that the trial took place before a military court whose procedures fall far short of internationally recognised fair trial standards underlines the determination of the Government of Bahrain to secure a conviction at any cost”
Amnesty International calls on Bahrain’s authorities to end these unfair military trials and release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.