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24 Oct, 2015 11:03

‘Bahrain targeting opposition families’ - sister of activist facing jail for tearing king’s photo

An appeals court in Bahrain has upheld a prison sentence handed down to prominent female activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, after she tore down a photograph of the king.

Her sister says the conviction is part of a crackdown on the family, following its participation in the 2011 anti-government protest.

Al-Khawaja remains on bail as she is waiting for court rulings on her appeals against three other convictions for acts of civil disobedience, but her family say she could be re-arrested at anytime.

“With the Bahraini government one never knows when she is going to be arrested. They might break into her home at any point to arrest her. But they may also wait for her to pass through a checkpoint or enter a government building to arrest her,” Zainab’s sister, Maryam Al-Khawaja told RT.

Maryam herself was given a one-year sentence in absentia and is now living in exile in Denmark, while their uncle has been sentenced to five years behind bars.

READ MORE: Undefeated protests: Bahraini court jails young woman as rallies continue

Zainab spent time in prison on several occasions and is facing two additional years under other cases. The women’s father Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was jailed for life in 2011 for what the authorities called “trying to topple the government.”

“There are several families that have several members sentenced to hundreds of years in prison. Many of them were subjected to severe torture. It’s the government tactics to target entire families,” said Maryam.

The court’s ruling reduced the original three-year sentence to 12 months, a move that, according to Maryam, is meant to make an appearance of a proper judicial process rather than an act of political persecution. Ironically, the ruling was handed down on Zainab’s 32nd birthday. The mother of two may have to take her infant baby son to jail with her.

“It is ludicrous that Zainab Al-Khawaja is facing a year in prison simply for tearing up a photo of the head of state,” James Lynch, the Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International said.

“The Bahraini authorities must ensure her conviction and prison sentence are quashed. She should not be punished in any way for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression,” he added.

Activists have launched an online campaign with the hashtag, 'happy birthday Zainab', urging the monarch to drop all charges.

Bahrain, a close Sunni ally of the United States, faced mass protest amongst its sizable Shiite minority in 2011. It was crushed with the help of military troops from Saudi Arabia. The government of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa promised political reforms but in reality, it has been sentencing protesters to long prison terms. Bahrain claims the protesters are dangerous rebels inciting dissent following orders from Iran.