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16 Aug, 2012 09:23

Bahrain jails prominent activist Rajab for 3 years

Bahraini Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced to three years in jail for “participation in an illegal assembly” and “calling for a march without prior notification.”

Rajab has been in police custody since June 6 over comments he made on Twitter critical of the Bahraini Prime Minister, which called for him to step down. Rajab was sentenced on July 9 to three months for the remarks, raising concerns worldwide among free-speech activists.

Rajab, a prominent human rights activist, led several anti-regime demonstrations in recent months. The activist is also affiliated with international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. Opposition rallies have repeatedly called for his release.

A lower Bahraini court added three years to Rajab’s sentence on Thursday for“involvement in illegal practices and inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorized marches through social networking sites,” and for his “participation in an illegal assembly” and “participation in an illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification.”

"Jail me 3 years or 30, I will never give up," Rajab’s son Adam tweeted, quoting his father’s remarks.

Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), condemned the sentence: “It’s been over a year that the Bahraini people have been peacefully asking for human rights and democracy,” he said. “How does the government remain so deaf to these calls? Arbitrarily imprisoning human rights defenders will not stop the people from aspiring to freedom and democratic change. We hope that the international community will firmly condemn this decision and will call for Nabeel’s release.”

Before his arrest, Rajab appeared as a guest on episode four of ‘The World Tomorrow’ on RT, hosted by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In the interview, he criticized the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as US refusals to take action during the Bahraini protests and the wider Arab Spring.

“The Americans from the beginning, they didn’t want to change those regimes, they didn’t want to change the regime in Egypt, they didn’t want to change the regime," Rajab said. “You see now for example, Bahrain is a good model. Iraq is maybe the closest to us democratic state but Americans are against democracy in Bahrain now.”

Rajab was arrested May 5th, days after his appearance on the show, leading many to believe it was a government reprisal against his protest actions.

Rajab’s sentencing is the latest in a fierce crackdown on dissent in Bahrain. On Wednesday, human rights activist Said Yousif wrote on Twitter that he had been arrested at a checkpoint in the town of A'ali. Yousif had previously spoken out in support of Rajab.

Security forces manning the checkpoint had contacted his wife so that she could pick up his“two little kids,” Yousif said, and no further information was forthcoming.

Protests rage on

Pro-democracy rallies and protests in Bahrain have continued for the past year. Several activists have been detained by the government on various charges carrying harsh sentences, including “setting up terror groups to topple the royal regime and change the constitution.”

The crackdown has prompted widespread international condemnation. Some human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, claimed that criminal proceedings against the activists were not democratic.

Amnesty International cited an incident when a ruling judge ordered that hearings be moved behind closed doors, where defendants would be filmed. In response, the arrested activists fired their lawyers, but the court simply appointed new defense lawyers.

"The Bahraini authorities must end this travesty of justice… They are prisoners of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty International also urged Bahraini authorities to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of the torture of detained activists.

The sentencing raises questions about US support for the Sunni monarchy; Bahrain is the headquarters of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, and was designated a major non-NATO ally in October 2001.

­Colin Cavell, a former lecturer at the University of Bahrain, told RT that the court's decision is merely a play in the US political game, which supports the tyrannical regime to maintain military might in the region.

“Because of basing rights in the ports of Bahrain, and because of tarmac rights at the Sheik Isa Air Base, the US is able to far project its military might in the entire Middle East and to maintain US hegemony in the region,” he said. “What this jail sentence of three years for Mr. Nabeel Rajab indicates is that the Bahraini government is increasingly paranoid because three quarters of the Bahraini population want the 229-year monarchy to end.”