x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bahrain human rights chief jailed for three years over protests

A Bahrain court has sentenced prominent Shiite rights activist and head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, to three years in prison over "unauthorised" protests against the monarchy.

The head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday for taking part in an illegal gathering.

Nabeel Rajab, among the highest profile activists in detention, had been a face of the protest movement that has rocked the kingdom since February last year.

His organisation has played a key role in coordinating demonstrations over the past eighteen months. Rajab is an avid tweeter and outspoken critic of the ruling family.

In part because of the prominent role he has played, his case has been portrayed internationally as a test of the Bahrain government’s promise to implement reforms.

On August 10, 17 US congressmen and two senators sent a letter to the Bahraini government expressing concern at his detention and urging his release.

In a Ramadan address earlier this week, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa promised to continue to work toward the reforms recommended by an independent investigation into the uprising last year.

“We diligently seek to solve our people’s problems and improve their conditions and raise their standards without any discrimination or exclusion,” he said. Also this week, King Hamad pardoned 305 prisoners, although no further details were given about the nature of their crimes.

But some opposition activists said they viewed Rajab’s sentence as a warning.

“The government wants to send a message to other human rights defenders that anyone who does this work will be punished,” said Mohammed Al Maskati, the president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa programme director, said the court’s decision was a “dark day for justice in Bahrain that further questions the independence of the judiciary”.

Rajab was already in prison serving a three-month sentence for a tweet that some users had viewed as defamation of the Sunni community.

Rajab’s lawyer, Mohammed Al Jishi, promised to appeal his three-year sentence.

edickinson@thenational.ae