Hawzah News Agency (Manama, Bahrain) - This illegal sentence by the Bahraini Court of Appeal was handed down yesterday after the Bahraini High Court of First Tier had acquitted him of these charges. The case has attracted little media attention.
For all intents and purposes, Bahrain has become a Saudi vassal state, politically and economically, and has towed the Saudi line on every regional issue, from the war in Yemen and the repression of the Shia population to the siege of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Qatar.
Bahrain is the least effective member of the GCC. It has failed to demonstrate independence of action like Kuwait and Qatar or adopt a neutral stance like Oman.
The Al Khalifa minority regime relies on Saudi Arabia for its internal security and for financial support to shore up its budget deficits.
It has the backing of Saudi Arabia and the United States in its unending repression of the Shia majority and the stifling of all forms of peaceful dissent. The Al Khalifa ruling family's bloody attacks on peaceful protests and the silencing of their demands for democratic reform go back to 2011, when the Bahraini people joined protesters in other autocratic Arab states in what came to be known as the Arab Spring.
The cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, along with two of his colleagues Ali Alaswad and Sheikh Ali Sultan, led the al-Wefaq Shia opposition group in demanding fair and free elections and a halt to illegal arrests, sham trials, and lengthy prison sentences.
The group, together with its secular counterpart Al-Wa'ad organisation, called for a return to the 1973 constitution, popular participation in decision making, an independent judiciary, and a recognition of the freedoms of press, speech, and assembly.
As the protests spread across the country and the Al Khalifa regime - headed by King Hamad bin Isa and his dreaded and notoriously corrupt prime minister and uncle, Khalifa bin Salman - came under siege, the ruling family called on its Saudi benefactor to send troops to safeguard the brutal regime. Saudi troops remain in Bahrain today.
In response to the peaceful protests, the regime dissolved al-Wefaq and al-Wa'ad and arrested many of the two movements' leaders and activists. Sheikh Ali Salman at the time was the secretary general of al-Wefaq. His two colleagues Ali Alaswad and Ali Sultan went into self-imposed exile.
The Bahraini Court of Appeal earlier this week sentenced the three of them to life in prison (Alaswad and Sultan in absentia).
Ironically, the initial charge against Ali Salman focused on his involvement in the 2011 protest movement, in which the regime claimed he was "undermining the constitutional rule in Bahrain". This spurious charge was used to convict him in 2015 and sentence him to four years in prison. That conviction had nothing to do with the current false charge of aiding Qatar. He was supposed to be released late this year.
After Bahrain joined in the Saudi political and economic aggression against Qatar with the goal of isolating it and starving its people, the Al Khalifa regime decided to charge Ali Salman with spying for Qatar, which Bahrain currently views as an enemy state.
After the Bahraini High Court of First Tier acquitted him of these bogus charges a few months back, the regime appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal. He was retried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. This travesty of justice is yet another example of the Bahraini regime's relentless and brutal crackdown on dissent.
Why the harsh sentence, and why now?
As the Bahraini regime prepares to hold parliamentary elections late this month, it realises that the legitimacy of such elections is in question because the opposition has refused to participate.
The opposition has based its boycott of the elections on the valid argument that the regime fully controls the elections, which are neither fair nor free. The opposition is signaling pro-democracy countries, especially the United States and Britain, that Bahrain, which used to defend the constitution under the late Emir Isa bin Salman, has moved away from democracy and the one-person-one-vote rule to an apartheid regime in which the majority has no rights or freedoms.
King Hamad and his regime are following in the footsteps of the strongman rule in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and in the UAE under Muhammad bin Zayed.
Another factor driving this harsh and illegitimate sentence is the regime's determination to break the back of al-Wefaq, the largest Shia opposition movement in Bahrain.
During my government service, my colleagues and I viewed al-Wefaq as a mainstream, peaceful political group committed to reform. We occasionally spoke to leaders and members of al-Wefaq because we correctly believed that they were committed to working within the system to bring about political reform and equality for all citizens under the law.