Education International
Education International

Bahraini human and trade union rights defenders receive global Award

published 17 June 2015 updated 22 June 2015

Education International welcomes the awarding of the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights to the leaders of its Bahraini affiliate, which acknowledges their struggle for quality education, human and trade union rights.

Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, respectively President and Vice-President of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA), have officially received todayin Oslo, Norway, the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights. This prize, established and awarded annually by Industri Energi, a Norwegian trade union, aims to promote and strengthen trade unions and trade union rights internationally.

Both union leaders were nominated for this prize by Education International (EI), in partnership with the Union of Education Norway, the Norwegian Association of Researchers, the Skolenes Landsforbund, and other EI affiliates worldwide.

They were imprisoned in 2011, tortured and humiliated because they encouraged strikes among teachers.

Mahdi Abu Dheeb, currently incarcerated, was sentenced to five years in prison. His health condition worsens steadily due to a lack of essential and critical medical aid. He is recognised as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Jalila al-Salman was released after nearly six months in prison, but suffers still from a job ban and restrictions to her right to free speech. She could however travel to Norway to receive the award.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, addressing the UN Human Rights Council’s 29th session, on 15 June, asked that all prisoners detained in Bahrain’s Jou Prison for conducting peaceful activities be released. Abu Dheeb is among those detainees.

“The way forward to ensure peace, stability and prosperity for all Bahrainis is through genuine dialogue between the Government and the opposition, without preconditions,” he said, also calling for an investigation into the human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Education International was also informed that in March of this year, the prison saw a wide and horrific crackdown on inmates and which included severe beatings, insults, degrading treatment and denial of medical treatment and basic rights, such as sanitation.

“We cannot work as an organisation as we used to before 2011, when a new regime settled in, and we want that the teaching profession to at least return to the point of 2011, when it started declining,” al-Salman told EI in a December 2014 interview.

She deplored that teachers are now facing punishment for collective bargaining, for example they are transferred from their work place if public authorities just think they belong to the BTA or that the trade union might help them.

What greatly motivates me also is that we have kids inside prisons; kids and teachers are still being arrested from inside schools in Bahrain, she condemned, which “is illegal all over the world and when we stand up to stop that in Bahrain no one is listening to us”.

Al-Salman also stressed that receiving the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights will help “raise the case of the BTA, of education, students and teachers in Bahrain.”

Speaking at the ceremony, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen reiterated that for the past four years EI has thrown its full support behind the Bahrain Teachers’ Association.

“I am very proud and honoured to stand next to Jalila, whose recognition today not only acknowledges her courageous struggle, but because she embodies the reason we must continue the fight for trade union rights on behalf of all who are denied them,” said Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his keynote at the award ceremony.

Van Leeuwen underlined that the current state in Bahrain impedes the development of democracy, pluralism and stability in the country; which is why qualified, well represented, and well supported teachers are needed to veer from this dangerous path.

“Today’s award is yet another opportunity to urge the Bahraini authorities to live up to their moral responsibilities and release unconditionally and immediately, my good colleague Mahdi Abu Dheeb,” he stated. “It also provides the clear example that no matter to what ends a regime is willing to take to suppress human and trade union rights, that the passion and strength of those fighting for justice cannot and will not be broken.”