Bahrain teachers’ leader must be freed now!
Mahdi Abu Dheeb, the President of the Bahrain Teachers Association is serving a five year jail sentence simply for doing his job as a trade union leader. This May Day and beyond, Amnesty International is campaigning alongside teachers and trade unionists to demand his freedom.
Two years ago, as the Arab Spring reached Bahrain, he stood alongside his members and organised a peaceful strike to call for reforms. As a result, he was arrested in April 2011. Mahdi’s family did not know where he was for 24 days. He spent 64 days in solitary confinement during which he says he was tortured and forced to sign a confession. His family and lawyer were only allowed to see him during the first session of his trial before a military court on 7 June 2011. His prison sentence was later reduced on appeal – from ten years to five – but he should never have been arrested in the first place.
The charge sheet reads like something from a Stalinist show trial. He was convicted for using his position to call for a strike by teachers, halting the educational process, inciting hatred of the regime, attempting to overthrow the ruling system, possessing pamphlets and disseminating fabricated stories and information, among other charges.
His real ‘crime’ was to stand up for change. At least 26 people have been killed in protests and scores of others like Mahdi are also in jail for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Amongst those imprisoned are at least 80 children under 18 who are being held in adult prisons in Bahrain for participating in protests.
Bahrain is one of the few countries in the Gulf with a tradition of independent trade unions. In a country where a small Sunni minority rule over a largely Shia population, the trade union movement represents a vital, democratic and non-sectarian force. That’s why teachers and workers, protesting peacefully, are such a threat.
The Bahrain ruling family like to hobnob with British royalty (£), and they have spent millions of pounds hiring expensive PR companies to gloss over their human rights abuses. They are sensitive to public opinion here and abroad. That’s why it is so important to take action now to free Mahdi and other prisoners of conscience.
No amount of expensive PR, though, can paper over this brutal repression. That’s why we will be asking our five hundred Amnesty school groups to take action for Mahdi, and why we will be inviting the 6,000 teachers in our Teach Rights network to raise his case in the classroom. Join with us and teachers and trade unionists worldwide to demand his freedom. Workers’ rights are universal human rights, which Bahrain must respect.
GUEST POST: Shane Enright is Amnesty International UK’s Trade Union Campaigns Manager and Amnesty International’s Global Trade Union Adviser. He has worked in the past for the International Transport Workers’ Federation and the then Transport & General Workers’ Union.