A Bahraini court on Thursday sentenced prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab [JURIST news archive] to three years in jail for instigating and participating in several anti-government protests. Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights [advocacy website], was convicted on three separate counts of taking part in "illegal gatherings" that yielded a one-year sentence each. Each of the demonstrations in question was a peaceful protest. Amnesty International [advocacy website] and other commentators criticized the sentences [press release] as being overly "harsh and unfair," as individuals found guilty in similar cases were sentenced to six months at the most [Reuters report] with some even being freed on bail. Last week 19 members of the US Congress wrote [letter, PDF] to Bahraini King Hamad al-Khalifa [NYT backgrounder] expressing "concern regarding Nabeel Rajab and other Bahrainis who have been prosecuted for crimes related to freedom of expression." Rajab is already serving a three-month sentence [JURIST report] for posting anti-government comments on his Twitter page [corporate website], where he has over 155,000 followers. His lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi has stated that Rajab plans to appeal [AP report] the rulings.
Rajab was arrested in June [JURIST report] for posting the comments to his Twitter page. He was released on bail [JURIST report] after spending three weeks in prison. Tension between Bahrain's government and protesters has been on the rise since government forces clashed with protesters last year during pro-democracy demonstrations, which have taken place on an almost daily basis since the February 2011 Shiite majority uprising seeking greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. The Bahrain Information Affairs authority announced last month that they had brought charges against 15 police officers [JURIST report] for alleged "mistreatment of inmates in custody." In June the government announced that it would pay $2.6 million in restitution [JURIST report] to citizens who lost family members during the violent protests to comply with recommendations of an independent commission who concluded that Bahrain authorities had used excessive force and tortured detainees involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations.