Lawyer: Bahrain activist convicted of defamation

July 9, 2012 - 8:39 AM

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A prominent Bahraini human rights activist was found guilty and sentenced to three months in jail on Monday on charges linked to anti-government comments he made on social media, his lawyer said Monday.

The ruling against Nabeel Rajab threatens to further escalate more than 16 months of unrest in the Gulf island kingdom, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Monday's conviction involves one of several cases against Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He has already been arrested and released twice since early May.

One of Rajab's attorneys, Mohammed al-Jishi, said Rajab's time behind bars will likely be shortened because of three weeks he already served in connection with the case.

The verdict relates to anti-government comments Rajab made on Twitter in June. Prosecutors alleged the posts defamed residents of Muharraq, an island town northeast of the capital Manama that is home to both Sunnis and Shiites. A group of Muharraq residents had pressed the court to hear the case.

Defense lawyers argued that Rajab had a right to free expression and was directing his comments at the prime minister, whom he urged to resign, and not residents of the town.

Rajab was taken into custody by masked police officers hours after the verdict was issued, according to his wife, Sumaya Rajab.

He was most recently released from detention on June 27, the second time in two months he has been set free.

Monday's ruling is the second among several cases pending against the activist. Late last month, he was fined 300 dinars ($800) related to a critical Twitter post he made against the Ministry of Interior.

Bahrain has experienced near daily protests since February 2011 following an uprising by the kingdom's Shiite majority seeking greater political rights from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. At least 50 people have died in the unrest.