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International rights groups denounce Bahrain ruling on Rajab’s jail sentence

A Bahraini protester shows a poster asking for the release of jailed human right activist Nabeel Rajab during a protest in the village of al-Malkiyah, South of Manama, on August 27, 2013. (Photo by AFP)

Prominent human rights organizations have denounced a ruling by Bahrain’s top court that upheld a five-year jail term for prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, with Amnesty International describing the verdict as “utterly outrageous.”

The Court of Cassation, whose verdicts are final, on Monday rejected Rajab’s appeal and upheld his prison sentence over tweets deemed critical of the Manama regime and the deadly Saudi-led war against Yemen.

“Nabeel Rajab’s conviction for his refusal to stay silent on the government’s rights abuses is further proof of the Bahrain authorities’ flagrant disregard for human rights,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Nabeel Rajab should not have been arrested in the first place, and upholding his sentence is a grave miscarriage of justice,” she added.

On February 21, Bahrain’s criminal court sentenced the distinguished human rights activist to five years in prison for tweeting in 2015 about torture in the Jaw Prison and censuring the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

According to a court document, Rajab was found guilty of “spreading false news and rumors in time of war,” “insulting foreign countries” and “insulting publicly the interior ministry” in comments posted on Twitter.

The pro-democracy campaigner has already served a two-year jail sentence over a news interview in which he said Bahrain tortured political detainees. Rajab completed this sentence in July.

The date of the hearing, scheduled for New Year’s Eve, raised concerns that the Bahraini authorities intended to uphold Rajab’s sentence at a moment when it would attract minimal media scrutiny.

“Bahrain has chosen to mark the new year by entrenching it attacks on human rights defenders and undermining free expression,” Fakih said. “But Bahrain cannot hide its abuses from public critique by jailing dissidents. Bahraini rights defenders are not backing down.”

The HRW also urged “a prompt, impartial, and independent investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment in detention.”

According to Rajab’s family, the activist's health deteriorated during his detention, noting that he is held in a cramped, dirty, and insect-infested cell at Jaw Prison, where he remains locked in his cell for 23 hours a day.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International slammed the ruling as “utterly outrageous” and “shameful”, condemning Bahrain’s justice system as “a complete farce.”

“Today’s shameful verdict is a travesty of justice. The decision to uphold Nabeel Rajab’s conviction and five-year sentence simply for posting tweets expressing his opinions, exposes Bahrain’s justice system as a complete farce. His treatment by the Bahraini authorities is completely unacceptable,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said Monday.

“Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience. It is utterly outrageous that he has already spent two years behind bars – including nine agonizing months in solitary confinement, amounting to torture,” Maalouf said.

She also urged the Bahraini authorities to “quash his conviction and sentence and release him immediately and unconditionally.”

Separately, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy with the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said the verdict was a “political persecution.”

Alwadaei said the timing of the verdict was meant to avoid drawing attention to the case.

Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the kingdom in mid-February 2011. They are demanding that the Al Khalifah dynasty relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.

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