A prominent human rights activist has been sentenced to two years in jail after a Bahraini court found him guilty of spreading “false news” about the situation inside the country. Amnesty International has called it a “flagrant violation of human rights.”
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.