A Bahraini court has sentenced prominent human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner Nabeel Rajab to two years in jail as the ruling Al Khalifah regime presses ahead with its heavy-handed crackdown on opposition figures in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
The head of the Northern Governorate’s Public Prosecution, Mohamed Salah, said on Monday that the Lower Criminal Court found the 52-year-old chairman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) guilty of “disseminating false news, statements and rumors about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status.”
Salah added that the court ordered Rajab to be remanded in custody.
The verdict, which the source said can be appealed, was immediately condemned by Bahraini and international human rights watchdogs.
Amnesty International denounced the ruling, saying it exposes a “relentless campaign” by authorities in Bahrain “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.
He added, “Bahrain’s government and judiciary have once again tightened their chokehold on freedom of expression and branded him a criminal.”
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy also lambasted the decision, 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 London-based group said in a statement.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Institute vehemently condemned the verdict.
“This outrageous sentence against someone speaking the truth exhibits the brutality of the Bahraini government and its heinous crimes and that of its kangaroo court,” he said.
On December 22, 2016, Bahraini authorities accused Rajab of making comments that “harm the interests” of the Manama regime and other Persian Gulf kingdoms through an article attributed to him and published by French daily Le Monde.
The article slammed the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group for their crimes against humanity. It also slammed Persian Gulf Arab countries for their failure to stop the spread of the violent Wahhabi ideology.
Wahhabism, the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia and freely preached by its clerics, fuels the ideological engine of terror organizations such as Daesh and Fateh al-Sham, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch formerly known as al-Nusra Front. Takfiri terrorists use the ideology to declare people of other faiths “infidels,” justifying the killing of their victims.
Rajab, who was detained on June 13, 2016 for tweets that criticized Manama’s role in the deadly Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen, could face up to 15 years in jail.
Liz Throssell, the spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that Rajab was arrested for “exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country 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.
On March 5, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.
Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3.