x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bahrain court cuts sentences of protesting teachers

An appeals court has upheld the convictions but reduced the sentences of two teachers charged with trying to overthrow the government during Arab Spring-inspired protests.

An appeals court in Bahrain upheld the convictions but reduced the sentences of two teachers who were charged with trying to overthrow the regime during Arab Spring-inspired protests last year.

Mahdi Abu Deeb, president of the teachers union, and union vice president Jalila Al Salman, were sentenced by a quasi-military court in 2011 to ten years and three years in prison, respectively. Lawyers said that the civilian appeals court yesterday reduced Abu Deeb's sentence to five years and Al Salmans' to six months.

The charges against them stem from a strike by the teachers' union in February, 2011 at the height of protests in the central Pearl Roundabout.

The prosecution argued that by encouraging the strike, the two defendants had been working for the overthrow of the regime, had stalled the education system and had incited hatred.

But Abu Deeb and Al Salman deny the charges and said that they were forced to sign confessions under torture. Al Salman says that she was held in solitary confinement for 18 days and was kept in freezing cold conditions for part of her time in prison.

"I believe that these verdicts are completely political," said Al Salman, who was released on bail last November. "Although we were expecting bad news, we were hoping to have a better judgment. ... They did not consider that all the confessions were under threat and torture."

Numerous convictions from the 2011 unrest have gone through retrials and appeals after a government-commissioned inquiry expressed concern last November over the trying of civilians by military tribunals and the treatment of prisoners.

Abu Deeb's family also said they were disappointed with the ruling and believed the charges were politically motivated. "563 days [that he was in prison so far] were hard … two years are a nightmare," his daughter, Maryam Abu Deeb, wrote on her Twitter feed after the verdict. The defendants can appeal the verdict to a Cassation Court, whose ruling would be final.

The ruling comes after a tense weekend of clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that left one police officer dead and another critically injured.

Authorities in Bahrain said the policeman died Friday after a homemade bomb was launched at police in the village of Al Eker, about 20 kilometres south of Manama. Police said they arrested seven suspects in the case.

"We won't stop at just determining who committed the crime, but we will also determine who orchestrated the explosion and who trained the individuals in their bomb-making skills," interior minister Lt-Gen Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said on Saturday, in condemning the "domestic terror act."

Opposition activists said yesterday that Al Eker had been sealed off by security forces.

"All the entrances are closed by the police," said one activist who entered the village on yesterday morning. He said that markets were running low on bread and schools were closed. "No one is walking on the streets; it's kind of a no-man's-land."

edickinson@thenational.ae