17 November 2016 – Rights groups today wrote to Prince Charles urging him to “publicly condemn” the prosecution of Ebrahim Sharif, a Bahraini politician facing charges after criticising the Prince of Wales’ recent visit to the Gulf kingdom.
Sharif, the former leader of the National Democracy Action Society (Wa’ad), a secular political party, was charged with inciting hatred against the regime. he charge was made on Sunday, days after Sharif spoke to the Associated Press during the visit of Prince Charles to the kingdom, a tour which he described as a “whitewash”. The charge carries a 3-year sentence, and comes in the aftermath of Prince Charles’ controversial visit to the Gulf monarchy. In Bahrain, the government has escalated its civil rights crackdown in the past year.
Speaking on the occasion of Prince Charles’ visit to the Gulf monarchy, Sharif, the former leader of the secular National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), told AP he was afraid the visit would “whitewash” human rights abuses. Sharif said: “I don’t see what’s gone on behind closed doors or whether the prince raised any questions of human rights. Bahrain’s government values its relations with the U.K. and if the U.K. puts its weight behind the improvement of human rights in Bahrain, the government will listen. They need friends.” He further said: “All parties should compromise. We can’t have absolute power in the hands of the ruling family.”
The five NGOs, including ARTICLE 19, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Index on Censorship, write: “The new charge brought against Mr Sharif is a consequence of your visit to Bahrain and underlines his original concerns.”
They further said: “We ask that you publicly condemn this reprisal against Ebrahim Sharif’s freedom of expression and political participation.”
While the US State Department has called for the dropping of all charges against Ebrahim Sharif,the UK has only expressed concern, stating: ““We are concerned by the charges brought against Ebrahim Sharif, and we will be raising these concerns at a senior level with the Bahraini government.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “For five years the UK has used the language of concern and for five years they have made negligible impact. Ebrahim Sharif is right, strong UK action will be felt in Bahrain. Now more than ever we need to see that action. Prince Charles must distance himself from authoritarianism with action, and the FCO must condemn this blatant repression of free speech.”
Prince Charles’ visit courted controversy, with campaigners accusing him of participating in a PR exercise and whitewash of continued human rights violations. The Prince of Wales highlighted religious tolerance in Bahrain, a theme also highlighted by visiting Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood MP, visiting the Al Fateh Grand Mosque and Bahrain’s Hindu temple, and meeting members of the country’s Jewish community. But the royal tour failed to meet with members of the Shia community, who make up a majority of Bahrain’s citizen population, and who have faced heightened discrimination from the government in the past months. In August, five UN experts called on Bahrain to end its “persecution of Shias”.
Ebrahim Sharif is the former leader of the Wa’ad political party. He was a member of the Bahrain 13, a group of high profile activists arrested, tortured and sentenced by military court in 2011. He was released in June 2015, but rear rested weeks later and sentenced to another year in prison for a political speech he gave calling for continued peaceful opposition. Sharif was released from prison in July 2016. He is currently on travel ban.