Education International (EI) has launched a new Urgent Action Appeal on Bahrain, calling on its member organisations to contact their national government as well as the Bahraini diplomatic representations in their country to urge the Bahraini authorities to review the charges and convictions and commute sentences of all teachers, teacher unionists and students charged with offences related to exercise of freedom of speech and right to assemble.
EI is particularly focusing on the appeals, on Sunday 11 December, of the Vice-President and President of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA). Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi 'Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb are appealing of the sentences issued in September by the military National Safety Court of First Instance to three and ten years’ imprisonment.
The involvement of teachers and Bahraini Teachers’ Association (BTA) affiliates in the peaceful pro-democracy protests at Pearl Roundabout in February this year resulted in persecution, detention and torture. Over 8,000 teachers have been affected since the beginning of the crackdown. Education institutions were closed and salaries not paid or delayed.
According to BTA, 2,500 teachers have been brought in from Egypt to replace dismissed Bahraini teachers. Another 6,500 unqualified local recruits have been hired.
Many of the union's leadership were arrested in March 2011. In September, the BTA President, Mahdi Abu Dheeb, and female Vice President, Jalila al-Salman, were sentenced to ten and three years’ imprisonment by a military court - although they are civilians. The BTA President was reportedly tortured in detention. The Vice President has been verbally abused. Another nine BTA officials are facing criminal prosecution, including the General Secretary, Mrs Sana Abdul Razzaq.
The education union is clearly suffering the most hardship. They were strong and representative before the pro-democracy movement and the Government is concerned about the influence the teaching community and BTA have on the public. Despite the national legislation which prevents the unionisation of teachers, BTA always undertook union activities.
The EI actions culminated in a mission led by the EI General Secretary on 19-20 November. He met key representatives of education unions, the BTA and the academics' union as well as civil society organisations. EI briefed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry which was to issue its report and recommendations to the King. The EI General Secretary asked the Commission of Inquiry to include recommendations that all dismissed teachers be reinstated and that union leaders and activists be free from criminal charges and further detention. Van Leeuwen also echoed the unions' concern about the decline in education quality due to the replacement of teachers by untrained recruits from Bahrain and Egypt. He also deplored the many accounts of torture given by union activists, teachers and students. BTA publicized the EI mission and reported that teacher unionists had felt supported by the visit of the EI General Secretary.
EI widely publicised the crackdown on teachers and launched three Urgent Action Appeals which generated hundreds of online letters from leading member organisations. Regular updates were posted on the EI website and electronic newsletter. EI appeals were multiplied through union websites (CTF-FCE, GEW, ITUC, TUC UK, LabourStart, among others). Amnesty International adopted the BTA leaders, Mahdi and Jalila, as prisoners of conscience to maximise pressure on the authorities.
EI submitted the protest letters to the authorities and requested audiences to the Bahrain embassy. On 26 May, EI joined the ITUC International Day of Action; the embassy however refused to meet the delegation and a joint letter was delivered by the global unions. At the International Labour Conference in June 2011, EI joined the Workers Group request for an ILO Commission of Inquiry. EI submitted allegations to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Association and to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. In October, EI and ITUC co-authored a joint complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA complaint 2882). In November, EI submitted an allegation to the UN Universal Periodic Review process of Bahrain.