February 13, 2012
AFT Executive Vice President Visits Bahrain Embassy
To Call for Release of Teachers Union Leader
Imprisoned After Pro-Democracy Demonstrations
WASHINGTON—On the eve of the first anniversary of the beginning of pro-democracy demonstrations on the streets of Bahrain, AFT Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence today hand-delivered a letter to the Bahraini Embassy calling for the release of the imprisoned president of Bahrain’s teachers union.
In the letter to Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s ambassador to the United States, Lawrence protested the continuing detention of Mahdi Abu Deeb, president of the Bahrain Teachers Association, who was arrested with other teachers union leaders.
Writing on behalf of the 1.6 million members of the American Federation of Teachers, Lawrence said that she was “delivering this letter personally to register our strong concerns about the Bahrain government’s treatment of teachers, healthcare workers and their union leaders in the aftermath of the Feb. 14, 2011, demonstrations in Bahrain.” She also expressed the AFT’s heightened concern upon learning that Abu Deeb began a hunger strike on Sunday to demand the release of all political prisoners.
“We are appalled that these dedicated public servants, who belong to quintessentially peaceful professions, who teach your children and help the sick and infirm, would face such consequences for exercising their rights as citizens,” Lawrence said in the letter to the ambassador. “The reports of the use of torture against many of the arrested protesters as confirmed by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) shocked Americans.”
Despite their civilian status, Abu Deeb and BTA vice president Jalila al-Salman were convicted in military court of several charges related to the demonstrations, and both were sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Al-Salman was released last month, but Abu Deeb remains behind bars.
Noting that Abu Deeb’s family has voiced concerns about his health, Lawrence added, “We ask your government to release this brave man and all political prisoners immediately.” AFT President Randi Weingarten raised similar issues last April in a letter of protest to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa shortly after the teachers association leaders were first arrested.
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The AFT represents 1.6 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.