Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab sentenced to 2yrs in jail for spreading 'false news'
Nabeel Rajab was sentenced earlier Monday over television interviews in which prosecutors claim he disseminated rumors and false information regarding Bahrain, AP reported.
The Shia opposition activist was convicted of "disseminating false news, statements and rumors about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status," a judicial source told the official BNA news agency, as cited by AFP.
The 52-year-old was sentenced in absentia, as he has been hospitalized since April, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
The institute has denounced the verdict, saying Rajab had been sentenced "for speaking to journalists" and that he had "spent over a year in pre-trial detention, largely in solitary confinement."
"His lawyers state he was denied basic fair trial guarantees," the group said in a statement.
Rajab’s cousin, Sheikh Maytham al Salman, denounced the trial of his relative as “an attempt by the government of Bahrain to silence all forms of criticism for human rights violations” and added that Rajab “was not given any access to meet his family or talk to his family or meet his lawyers in the last couple of days.”
He also called on the international community – and specifically the US, the UK and the EU – to “play a role in countering and stopping and putting an end to the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain.”
The decision has also been slammed by Amnesty International, which said it exposes a "relentless campaign" by Bahraini authorities to "wipe out dissent."
"Imprisoning Nabeel Rajab simply for sharing his opinion is a flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism," Amnesty's secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said.
"Bahrain’s government and judiciary have once again tightened their chokehold on freedom of expression and branded [Rajab] a criminal," he added.
However, the judicial source cited by Bahraini state media said that "all legal guarantees” had been provided to Rajab, and that his lawyer was present for the proceedings. He added the Monday ruling can be appealed.
Rajab, who helped lead Bahrain's Arab Spring protests in 2011, was arrested on the "fake news" charges in June 2016.
He is also awaiting an August 7 trial for a series of tweets in which he criticized the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, according to the Bahrain Institute.
Rajab faces up to 15 years in jail if he is found guilty in that trial.
The 52-year-old has also been arrested numerous other times. In 2015, he spent two months in jail after alleging in a tweet that some of Bahrain's soldiers had defected to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), before being pardoned for health reasons.
Bahrain has been the scene of frequent demonstrations and clashes with police since the 2011 Arab Spring protests were quelled by the government. The country's Shia-led opposition is demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister. Although the majority of Bahrain's population are Shia, the country's royal family is Sunni.
‘You only restrict freedom of speech, if you are weak’
Saeed Sehabi, director of Bahrain Free Movement, told RT that he believes Rajab’s harsh sentence is a part of an ongoing clampdown on civil liberties being waged by Bahrain’s leaders.
“The essence of the story is that no one should say anything. You have to accept the slave-master relationship. That you, Bahraini, are slaves for Al Khalifa [King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa],” Sehabi said, adding that the activist was jailed because he “chose to be a freeman, like more than 4,000 prisoners at this moment of time.”
Sehabi said that Rajab’s activism is part of a wider opposition movement that sprang from the Arab Spring of 2011.
Speculating on what might have infuriated the authorities most, Sehabi cited Rajab’s vociferous condemnation of the war in Yemen.
“What is happening in Yemen today is nothing but war crimes; this is according to United Nations experts. Nabeel Rajab only reiterated what others have been saying,” Sehabi pointed out, adding that the activist had encouraged others to take a stand and condemn the “aggressive war on defenseless people” in Yemen, as well as the arrest and detention of human rights and political activists.
Home to US and UK marine bases, Bahrain also hosts troops from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and Pakistan which the Bahrain Center for Human Rights says are often used by the country’s leadership to crack down on protests. Sehabi argued, however, that this was not enough to quash dissent.
“The Anglo-American, Saudi, Israeli alliance appears to be in dominance but, in reality, they are weak. You only resort to this tactics if you are weak, if you are strong, you allow people to speak, to protest. If you are weak, you do not. So this is what is happening,” he said.