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Monday 11th
posted by Morning Star in Features

The head of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association has finally been released after five years’ imprisonment, writes CHRISTINE BLOWER

INTERNATIONAL solidarity is at the heart of everything that the National Union of Teachers (NUT) stands for.

We campaign for human rights to be upheld wherever in the world they are threatened.

On international solidarity we have campaigned against human rights abuses in Colombia and Turkey and in Palestine. We have supported campaigns for teachers’ rights and education provision in Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone. But here I’ll be focusing on human rights violations in Bahrain.

A Bahraini teachers’ union leader, who was arrested and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment before an “unfair” military court in 2011, has been released after five years.

Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the founder and leader of the Bahrain Teachers Association, was freed last week.

Abu Dheeb and his colleague Jalila al-Salman were both arrested and charged with inciting hatred and attempting to bring down the regime of Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah — Bahrain’s only prime minister since the country’s independence in the ’70s.

Both teachers were arrested and imprisoned at a time of great unrest in Bahrain. At the time of their arrest, the authorities were clamping down on protesters who had dared to get involved in the Arab Spring.

Amnesty International said that although no evidence was brought against Abu Dheeb, he was convicted with the following charges:
- Halting the educational process
- Inciting hatred of the regime
- Attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force
- Possessing pamphlets
- Disseminating fabricated stories and information

Abu Dheeb was at his uncle’s house on April 6 2011 when police seized him for interrogation. They took him to a secret location and his family didn’t know where he was for over three weeks. He was kept in solitary confinement for 64 days.

Abu Dheeb says the police beat him when he was under interrogation. His daughter Maryam also reiterated her father’s claim, adding that “he had two broken ribs and was suffering from severe neck and back pain” when she saw him after his time in detention.

Salman was sentenced to three years, later reduced to six months. She was released in November 2012.

Abu Dheeb was initially sentenced to 10 years. However, on October 21 2012, the appeal court upheld the guilty verdict against the head of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, but reduced his prison sentence to five years.

During his time in prison, Abu Dheeb went on hunger strike on two occasions to protest against the use of torture against detainees, having himself suffered from broken ribs and kidney damage as a result of regular beatings, according to his daughter.

On April 4, after serving his sentence, Abu Dheeb was finally freed. His release was welcomed by many, including the NUT, which has campaigned long and hard for his release.

Pressures from the NUT, Amnesty International and Education International ensured that the campaign to free Abu Dheeb remained in the public eye.

The NUT wrote several letters to the British government “to take serious practical measures to ensure that the human rights situation in Bahrain is finally tackled and that any military, diplomatic and security ties are handled with the view of ending human rights abuses.”

The NUT also participated in a delegation to the Bahraini embassy to make the points in person.

Other letters include a reminder of “Articles 349 and 350 of the Bahraini Criminal Procedures Law and Article 81 of the Reform and Rehabilitation Facility Law, that prisoners shall have the right of early release after completion of 75 per cent of their term subject to the orders of the enforcement judge based on the recommendations of the director of the relevant Reform and Rehabilitation Facility.”

The statement went on to say that “international standards and treaties to which Bahrain is a signatory have guaranteed this right, which should be afforded to all prisoners of conscience who have completed 75 per cent of their term.

“We urge the government of Bahrain to process their release immediately and without further delay in compliance with the relevant local and international laws and regulations that they have agreed and signed.”

The NUT and its members, at our recent annual conference, alongside the leader of the Labour Party, applied more pressure on the Bahraini government, in the days preceding Abu Dheeb’s release so as to prevent his rearrest.

The NUT is delighted that Abu Dheeb is free at last but he should never have been detained and imprisoned in the first place. He was imprisoned simply for exercising his right to freedom of speech and association.

  • Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.