Manama: Bahrain’s Cassation Court, the country’s highest court, on Monday upheld the jail for life sentence against Ali Salman, the former head of the now-dissolved Al Wefaq Society, suspected of spying for Qatar.
Ali Salman, Hassan Sultan and Ali Al Aswad were put on trial in November 2017 on charges of spying for a foreign country to carry out subversive acts against Bahrain and undermine its political and economic status and its national interests in order to topple the regime.
Other charges include passing on defence secrets to a foreign country, accepting money from a foreign country in exchange for supplying military secrets and information related to the internal situation in the country, and broadcasting news and false and malicious rumours abroad to weaken financial trust in the kingdom and undermine its status.
In the case documents, the public prosecution said the charges against the three defendants were based on evidence gathered from the testimonies of witnesses and recorded telephone conversations between Ali Salman and Hassan Sultan with Qatari officials that included agreements and coordination between the two sides to carry out subversive acts against Bahrain.
The public prosecution added it relied for evidence on Qatar’s record of activities targeting Arab countries, mainly Bahrain, and its use of media to incite people against the political regimes in these countries while having close contacts with nationals opposed to their countries, such as the Bahraini suspects in the case.
The prosecution said the phone conversations were recorded during the dramatic events that hit Bahrain in 2011.
However, on June 21, the High Criminal Court dropped the charges and acquitted the three, prompting the public prosecution to appeal the verdict.
Under Bahrain’s laws, the prosecution and the defendants can appeal a ruling at the Court of Appeals in the first stage and at the Cassation Court, the country’s highest court, in the second stage.
On November 4, the High Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal decision and sentenced the three to life in prison, arguing that its ruling was based on the multiple evidence presented by the public prosecution.
The evidence incriminated the suspects and was in line with Qatar’s attitudes towards Bahrain and its blatant interference in its domestic affairs in order to harm the kingdom’s higher interests and undermine its regime, the court said.
In order to achieve its aims, Qatar recruited elements who were opposed to Bahrain and its government and used them both to carry out direct actions to weaken the country, the court added.
According to the Appeals Court, the Qatari government was implicated in running the espionage operation and that then Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassem, Advisor to Qatar’s former emir, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, director of Al Jazeera TV channel Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani and editor of London-based Al Alem magazine Saeed Al Shihabi were involved.
Only Ali Salman, who is serving a jail sentence in another case since 2014, appealed the life sentence. The other two defendants could not challenge the verdict since they are abroad and Bahraini laws require the presence of a defendant to lodge an appeal.
On June 5, 2017 Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt severed their diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremists and funding terrorism.
Kuwait has since tried to mediate in the crisis, but its efforts have not so far achieved any breakthrough.
Chronology of a trial:
• November 2017: Ali Salman, Hassan Sultan and Ali Al Aswad put on trial on charges of espionage for Qatar
• June 2018: High Criminal Court rejects charges, orders acquittal
• June 2018: Public Prosecutor appeals ruling
• November 2018: Court of Appeals sentences the three defendants to life in prison
• November 2018: Ali Salman appeals verdict
• January 2019: Cassation Court upholds verdict