Manama: Human rights groups have condemned the three-year jail sentence handed down to a prominent Bahraini activist for instigating and participating in anti-government rallies inspired by Arab Spring uprisings across the region.
According to the Wall Street Journal, human rights groups called the punishment against Nabeel Rajab ‘unusually harsh’. They also said it raises questions about the Western-backed Sunni monarchy’s commitment to reform.
“It seems Bahrain``s rulers are far more comfortable with harsh repression than with the reforms King Hamad keeps promising,” Joe Stork, deputy director of advocacy group Human Rights Watch``s Middle East and North Africa division, said. “The government has yet to show that Nabeel Rajab did any more than exercise his right to free expression and peaceful assembly.
He should be set free, not sent away from his family to prison," Hamad added. The activists said it could also lead to anti-government protesters who have been demonstrating for the past 18 months, calling for greater rights in the country.
Rajab’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, said his client was sentenced to a year in prison for each of three protests he took part in, bringing the total sentence to three years. The monarchy considers most anti-government rallies to be ‘illegal gatherings’ punishable by law.
Bahrain Government spokesman Abdul Aziz Bin Mubarak Al Khalifa too acknowledged that Rajab’s sentence was ‘harsh’.
“The country will not be hijacked into violence by a minority of people,” Al Khalifa said, adding: “His participation in marches in controversial areas in Bahrain has provoked a lot of violence”.
Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was already serving a three-month sentence for posting anti-government comments on Twitter. “What happen today in the court room shows clearly there is no justice or independent judiciary,” Rajab’s wife, Sumayia, said.