DUBAI: A Bahraini appeals court yesterday upheld a five-year jail sentence in a case against high-profile activist Nabeel Rajab linked to social media, a rights group and family member said. Rajab, a leading figure in 2011 protests against the Gulf state’s Sunni-minority monarchy, was convicted of insulting the state, “deliberately disseminating … false or malicious news” and “publicly offending a foreign country”, a reference to Saudi Arabia.
The charges are linked to tweets and retweets made via Rajab’s account and critical of the Saudi-led coalition, including Bahrain, fighting in Yemen in support of its beleaguered government since 2015. He also tweeted criticism of the Bahraini government’s treatment of prisoners. Tuesday’s verdict, reported by the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy and confirmed to AFP by a family member of Rajab, can still be appealed at Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, its highest court.
Rights groups were swift to condemn the verdict, with Amnesty International describing it as “outrageous” and calling for Rajab’s immediate release. “The Bahraini Court of Appeal has missed a vital opportunity to do the right thing and set Nabeel Rajab free,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s director of Middle East research. “His ongoing detention is further proof of the Bahraini authorities’ relentless determination to squash the right to freedom of expression… It is absolutely outrageous that he has to spend another single day behind bars solely for expressing his opinion online.”
The International Federation for Human Rights said the conviction showed Rajab was “a political prisoner, subject to degrading treatment and who has to be silenced at any price”. Bahrain, a Shiite-majority country located between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been ruled for more than two centuries by the Al-Khalifa dynasty. Authorities have jailed dozens of high-profile activists and disbanded both religious and secular opposition groups since protests demanding political change erupted in 2011.
They have stripped hundreds of those convicted of their citizenship, leaving many stateless. The Bahraini government has accused Iranian authorities of backing the protest movement in a bid to overthrow it. Tehran denies involvement. Amnesty has categorized Rajab as a prisoner of conscience, and leading rights groups around the world have condemned his trials as an attack on freedom of expression.
Rajab is already serving a two-year sentence for “disseminating rumors and false information” in television interviews critical of the government. He has served multiple stints in prison since 2012, all linked to his role in the protests. Bahrain, playing a key military role in the Gulf, is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a British military base. US President Donald Trump has eased restrictions on arms sales to Bahrain since taking office in January last year.–AFP