Prominent Bahraini opposition activist, Nabeel Rajab, has been sentenced to three years in prison for leading anti-government protests.
Rajab is the founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and has led many protests against the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty who exercise wide ruling powers over the island.
The pro-democracy protests led by the Shi’ite Muslim majority began last year following the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Majority of the Shi’ite Muslims are complaining of political and economic marginalisation, but the government denies this accusation.
“It is a very stiff and unexpected ruling. I am surprised. They are peaceful protests, not violent ones,” said Rajab’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi. He said others who had been found guilty in similar cases had either been sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison or freed on bail.
Even though despised by the Bahraini government, Rajab is considered a hero among many of the Shi’ite protestors. Even currently, Rajab is serving three months in jail over a post on Tweeter criticizing the veteran prime minister.
Human rights groups have condemned the court’s ruling in Rajab’s case.
“This is a shocking verdict, even by Bahrain’s own abysmal standards on human rights. The regime can’t be serious about human rights reform when it jails one of the world’s most prominent activists to prison for three years,” said Brian Dooley from the U.S.-based Human Rights First.
Bahrain’s government has made all attempts to contain and stop the protests, including imposing a martial law to crush the uprising last year. This was followed by requests from the U.S. urging the government to hold peace talks with the opposition and to end the unrest.
However, Bahrain is a close ally of the U.S., allowing Washington to run its Fifth Fleet operations out of the Bahraini capital, Manama. The fleet plays a key role in ensuring the free flow of oil in the Gulf.
Nabeel Rajab Twitter account