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Bahrain: Education union leader calls for international solidarity

published 18 October 2011 updated 21 October 2011

Jalila Al-Salman, Vice-President of the EI-affiliated Bahraini Teachers’ Association (BTA), has called on the international community to support teachers’ legitimate struggle for human and trade unions rights.

On 25 September, the National Safety Court of First Instance – a Bahraini military court – sentenced Al-Salman and her BTA President, Mahdi Abu Dheeb, to three and ten years’ imprisonment, for their involvement in peaceful protests in the capital, Manama, last March.

They were among several BTA board members arrested after calling for a teachers’ strike during the civil uprisings for democracy. While their colleagues were released, both trade union leaders have been prosecuted on dubious charges of ‘leaving work on purpose, encouraging others to do so, and taking part in illegal gatherings’.

King Al Khalifa’s regime has also dissolved the BTA and has repressed teachers using harassment and intimidation that includes the suspension of salaries, mass dismissals, arbitrary arrests, detentions and, in some instances, allegations of torture.

According to Al-Salman, more than 8,000 teachers have been affected since the beginning of the crackdown: “There is currently a climate of fear amongst educators; they wonder who will be next.”

She went on to explain that 2,500 teachers have been brought in from Egypt to replace dismissed Bahraini teachers, together with another 6,500 unqualified local volunteers: “The quality of our education system is being terminally undermined. They are employing unqualified teachers, while some of our assistant school principals are now working as fishermen and teachers are working as painters and decorators. The situation is critical.”

Last week, BTA President, Abu Dheeb, was transferred from Laqareen prison to the notorious Jaw prison, inspected by the Bahrain Human Rights Society for breaching international standards. There have been reports of abuses in the detention section where new inmates are first held before being assigned a permanent cell.

Both trade union leaders will be appealing against their convictions at a hearing on 11 December.

Having asked to be allowed out of prison until the end of the appeals process, Al-Salman was initially released but then re-arrested in the early hours of this morning by masked members of the security forces who were dressed in civilian clothing. They arrived at Al-Salman’s home without an official warrant for her arrest.

An associate of Al-Salman informed EI that he was convinced Jalila’s arrest was connected to her speaking out about about the violations of women’s rights as well as the continuing abuse of teachers in Bahrain.

EI has repeatedly urged the Bahraini authorities to respect fundamental human and trade union rights and teachers’ freedoms. EI has also launched an urgent action appeal to mobilise international solidarity in support of Al-Salman and Abu Dheeb.

If you share EI’s outrage at the abuse of trade union activists in Bahrain, we need you to sign our petition now.