On 21 October, the Manama Appeals Court is due to hear the final plea by two Bahraini teacher trade union leaders who have been imprisoned and tortured following protests connected to the Arab Spring uprising.
Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila Al Salman, the President and Vice President of the Bahraini Teachers' Association (BTA), were sentenced to ten and three years in prison respectively by a military court in September 2011. They have been found guilty of using and advocating violence during the 2011 protests, charges which are completely without any foundation or evidence. Many more members of the BTA have been dismissed from their jobs in the wake of the Government crackdown, despite the highly critical findings and recommendations of the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry established at the behest of the King of Bahrain.
The actions of the Bahraini Government are a direct contravention of international human rights law. Despite representations to the British Embassy in Bahrain, the Bahrain Ambassador to the UK and the UK Government, the repression of teachers continues. The appeal court procedure of the BTA leaders has been postponed consecutively on 19 February, 2 April, 2 May, 25 June, 4 July, 6 August, 9 September and 12 September in order to deny justice. Mahdi has been denied release on bail throughout the appeal court procedure, despite international pressure and his deteriorating health. In February 2012, he started a hunger strike, putting his fragile health further at risk.
The international pressure exerted has resulted in the presence of international human rights organisations and several western diplomatic representations in Bahrain in almost all of Mahdi's and Jalila's appeal hearings. The BTA believes that the regular presence of diplomats, civil society organisations and media at the court hearings has made a difference. The NASUWT, together with teachers around the world and under the auspices of Education International, the world's largest global federation of education trade unions, has been campaigning vigorously to press the Bahraini authorities to release and reinstate all teachers who have been imprisoned and treated unjustly by the authorities. We should all be appalled by these continuing human rights abuses.
Teachers as educators are champions of human rights, democracy and equality for all. Attacks on the rights and freedoms of teachers can only be viewed as an attack on education and human rights. And, in the UK we must take some share of responsibility for these continuing injustices in Bahrain. After all, it was only six months ago that the world's media visited the country to profit from the great spectacle of the Bahrain Grand Prix just two days before an international delegation visited the country to raise concerns with the King about the country's human rights practices.
I travelled to Bahrain earlier this year as part of the international delegation to the country organised by the International Trade Union Confederation and Education International. Members of the BTA told us how they have been subjected to torture, sexual assault, abduction and severe violence by the authorities. We heard how Jalila had been taken from her home in the middle of the night by security forces, who raided her home in front of her terrified and screaming children. She was blindfolded, beaten, sexually assaulted and kept locked up in freezing temperatures. Mahdi's daughter, Maryam, provided a moving and disturbing testimony of what had been happening to her father, including the many injuries he has sustained whilst in prison.
It is clear to impartial international observers that the proper judicial processes in Mahdi and Jalila's cases have not been followed. Vital defence witnesses have not been allowed to give evidence in court, independent medical examinations have not been undertaken and they have been left to languish in prison whilst appeal hearings have repeatedly been postponed. The fact that this appeal hearing on the 21st is going ahead at all is only due to the immense pressure being placed on the Bahraini authorities by teachers, trade unions and NGOs around the world. However, recent action by the authorities suggests that the prospect that these teachers will receive a fair hearing is uncertain.
The NASUWT has provided evidence of the scale of human rights abuses in this case to government ministers and the Bahrain Embassy, yet Ministers here appear unwilling to challenge robustly the Bahraini authorities. Why?
Just last week William Hague met with the Crown Price of Bahrain where he called for more progress on "inclusive political dialogue" as a "friend and ally" of Bahrain. It is not warm words that we need from the Foreign Office, but sharper actions to call the Bahraini authorities to account.
Now is the time when further intervention is vital, and not only to secure justice and freedom for Mahdi and Jalila. The future for international human rights is also at stake. The UK Government cannot continue to wash its hands on this matter. We now have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to fundamental British values, defending human rights, tackling injustice and championing equality around the world.
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