Bahrain's top activist receives two-year sentence
Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Bahrain’s most prominent human rights activist received a reduced two-year prison sentence Tuesday in a final court appeal over charges of organizing illegal gatherings during the kingdom’s popular uprising that erupted last year.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was originally handed a three-year prison sentence in August after being arrested on several occasions as part of the monarchy’s brutal crackdown on dissidents. He has been in prison since May.
“He was expecting to be released today,” Yousif al-Muhafda, BCHR deputy head, told Al-Akhbar.
Activists charged with taking part in Bahrain’s so-called “illegal gatherings” are typically handed one-to-three month prison terms, or have the charges thrown out entirely. But the ruling family in Bahrain sees Rajab as an exceptional case due to his instrumental role in mobilizing citizens who took to the streets en masse last year in anti-government protests.
Muhafda, who was present in the court for the verdict Tuesday, noted that several international rights organizations, including the International Federation for Human Rights and Lawyers Without Border, had arrived to Bahrain to monitor a case that has drawn widespread outrage over the kingdom’s harsh rulings.
“There were at least 12 policemen inside the court, as if he was [Osama] bin Laden,” Muhafda said.
“This goes to show that the courts are not independent. They are a tool for the king to suppress human rights defenders,” he added, noting that the judge prevented Rajab from making a statement, or interacting with his family and friends present in the court.
Another prominent Bahraini activist was sentenced to a one-month prison sentence Monday for taking part in an illegal gathering. Zainab al-Khawaja is currently in jail over another politically-motivated charge, and is scheduled to stand for sentencing for at least three other offenses this month.
Bahrain in November banned all forms of public gatherings in a bid to quash the ongoing, almost daily, demonstrations against the western-backed al-Khalifa ruling family. But even before the ban, all organizers were required to obtain government permission before holding public events.
At least 80 people have been killed in the violence since the popular uprising erupted in February 2011.
Saudi troops were ushered into Bahrain, home to the US Fifth fleet, to help suppress the uprising in March 2011, but failed to end protests.
The tyrannical monarchy continues to target human rights activists, medics who have treated injured protesters, and journalists.
An independent commission formed last year to investigate cases of abuse at the hands of the government found the kingdom’s security forces responsible for torture, killing and the use “excessive force.”