DUBAI (Reuters) – A Bahrain court sentenced rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab to two years in jail on Monday, supporters said, for allegedly making “false or malicious” statements about Bahraini authorities.
Authorities at Bahrain’s information affairs office could not immediately be reached for comment. Bahrain has repeatedly denied systematic rights abuses.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Rajab had been unable to attend the trial, having been at an interior ministry hospital since his health deteriorated in April. He was detained a year ago.
“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,” said Sayed Al-Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD.
In a January 2015 media interview cited by the prosecution, according to al-Wadaei, Rajab had said Bahrain’s jails housed political prisoners who were subject to torture.
Rajab was a leading figure in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising which Bahrain crushed with the help of fellow Gulf Arab countries.
He was arrested in June last year after tweets from his account suggested that security forces had tortured detainees in a Bahraini prison and during a military campaign in Yemen.
Amnesty International called Rajab’s imprisonment “a flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism”.
Human Rights First called the ruling “blatant injustice designed to serve political interests”.
Rajab criticized U.S. President Donald Trump in a New York Times column in May for selling arms to his country and to Saudi Arabia, citing their human rights records.
Trump’s White House has green-lighted a $5 billion military sale to Bahrain held up by the administration of his predecessor Barrack Obama last year over human rights concerns. The island state is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom, most of whose population is Shi’ite, says it faces a threat from neighboring Shi’ite theocracy Iran.
It accuses the Islamic Republic of radicalizing and arming some members of its majority Shi’ite population in an effort to bring about the downfall of the ruling Al Khalifa family.
Tehran denies any meddling in Bahrain.
Rajab faces further charges related to an article he published in the New York Times last year and tweets from his account critical of the intervention in the Yemen war by a Saudi-led coalition.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Roche)