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Bahrain human rights activist released from prison

Nabeel Rajab had originally been arrested over a Tweet critical of Bahrain's 'institutions'
Nabeel Rajab flashes the victory sign after leaving the court (AFP)

A Bahraini court has freed prominent Bahrain human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, following his arrest last month for “insulting a public institution” in a Tweet.

The long-standing pro-democracy activist was freed by a criminal court in the Bahraini capital of Manama on Sunday, but is barred from travelling until his trial resumes on 20 January.

In the original tweet for which he was arrested, Rajab lambasted what he perceived as sectarian policies emanating from Bahrain’s government and described them as the “first ideological incubator” for the surge in Bahraini youths travelling to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Rajab’s imprisonment and trial has been internationally condemned by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, who adopted Rajab as a “prisoner of conscience”.

Amnesty International said it welcomed Rajab’s release but said in a statement released on Sunday that “he should never have been detained in the first place".

"The Bahraini authorities are merely obfuscating, meanwhile a man’s future hangs in the balance," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Rajab was originally arrested on 1 October, after returning to Bahrain following an international advocacy tour.

Judicial sources told AFP that Rajab's lawyer, Jalila al-Sayyed, used Sunday's hearing to call for her client to be freed.

Bahrain’s authorities have repeatedly accused Rajab, a Shiite, of being an Islamist spy for Iran.

Rajab is one of a number of high profile cases involving the imprisonment of Shiite activists in the country – three members of the Alkhawaja family, Abdelhadi and daughters Maryam and Zainab, have been targeted by authorities in recent years.

Abdelhadi, co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in prison since 2011, while his pregnant daughter Zainab faces the prospect of giving birth in prison after being arrested for tearing up a picture of the ruling monarch, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain holds parliamentary elections on 22 November, though the largest opposition group, Al-Wefaq, have been banned, in spite of already stating they would boycott the elections.

Bahrain has been wracked by protests since 2011 when pro-democracy activists – overwhelmingly from the country’s Shiite majority – took to the streets demanding the ouster of the Al-Khalifa family, who have ruled the country as a monarchy since independence in 1971.