Amnesty and teaching unions present Mahdi Abu Dheeb's case at the Bahraini Embassy in London.
Demanding freedom for Bahrain’s teacher union leader
This afternoon I paid a visit to the Embassy of Bahrain in London’s swanky Belgrave Square to demand the freedom of the jailed leader of the country’s teacher union, jailed in 2011 for calling on his members to take strike action. I met the Ambassador together with two of Mahdi Abu Dheeb‘s UK equivalents, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower and NASUWT Deputy General Secretary Patrick Roach. We were there with Amnesty International UK’s leader Kate Allen, who was handing in the results of a massive exercise in popular protest about Mahdi’s continued imprisonment.
More than 37 thousand people have demanded Mahdi’s release, including 22 thousand who signed a petition, 14 thousand sent appeal postcards (weighing in at x kg!), 504 photo protests (you can see some of them here, including TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and actor/campaigner Ricky Tomlinson), 468 letters and 237 messages from young supporters telling Mahdi how much they want him to be free. We took those message to the Ambassador.
Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the leader of the Bahrain Teachers Association, was jailed for 10 years in 2011 by a military tribunal, although that was reduced to five years by a civilian court a year later. Amnesty have named him a prisoner of conscience, and the International Trade Union Confederation and Education International have taken the campaign for his freedom to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva.
Mahdi was accused of using his position to call for a strike by teachers, of halting the educational process, and of “inciting hatred of the regime” and “attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force.” He has been beaten and tortured in prison, and has been refused treatment for his hyper-tension, diabetes and for the injuries he has sustained in jail. Despite formally complaining about torture in March 2012, the regime that was so quick to jail him has not had time to investigate his complaint.
Of course, Mahdi is just one of the activists in Bahrain who has suffered at the hands of the brutal and vengeful regime. Many teachers were arrested or sacked for taking part in 2011’s democracy protests. Although there is a flourishing trade union movement in Bahrain – the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) – the country’s government has so far failed to ratify the two ILO core labour conventions on freedom of association and free collective bargaining (C87 and C98).
Needless to say, the Bahraini Ambassador didn’t accept our demands, but promised to convey them back to her government. We won’t give up campaigning for Mahdi’s freedom, and for justice for workers in Bahrain.