A lawyer representing human rights activist Nabeel Rajab [personal Twitter account] said Sunday that a judge has rejected a request to approve a conditional early release, for which Rajab is now eligible under Bahraini law. US Department of State [official website] spokeswoman Jen Psaki commented on news of the early release denial [Reuters report], stating that the US continues to urge Bahrain to permit all sectors of society to peacefully voice their political views. Rajab, founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) [advocacy website], was originally sentenced to serve three years in prison for leading unlicensed protests against the powerful Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa dynasty, though his sentence was reduced to one year [JURIST report] after he had already served his sentence. He has already served three quarters of his prison term. In its rejection, the court did not cite any reason for its decision that Rajab is ineligible for release.
Bahrain has faced international criticism for its crackdown against dissidents since anti-government protests began last year. In October Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Bahrain's court of appeals to overturn the conviction of Rajab [JURIST report]. Also in October, the Bahrain Court of Cassation upheld jail sentences [JURIST report] for nine medics convicted for their involvement in Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising. According to Bahrain News Agency, the medics were working at Salmaniya Medical Complex [official websites], and, during the time of the uprising, "took over the complex, detained and imprisoned kidnapped persons, and transformed the hospital to a place of illegal gathering and strikes, in violation of laws." According to Physicians for Human Rights [official website], at least 95 health workers were arrested in Bahrain only after some medics treated those hurt by security forces and spoke out against the crackdown against protesters, which included firing upon ambulances. Last month government officials pledged to fulfill [JURIST report] the 158 recommendations included in the UN Universal Periodic Review [materials] regarding human rights abuses against political opposition. HRW called on Bahrain to follow through with their promises, but raised doubts as to whether the government is fully committed to reform.