Bahrain rejects UN call to release activist Nabeel Rajab
Bahrain has rejected a UN call to release prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, saying his five-year sentence for allegedly posting "false tweets" [did] not fall within freedom of expression".
The remarks on Friday by the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Crimes came a week after the UN human rights office called on Bahrain to "immediately and unconditionally release" Rajab.
Rajab lost his final appeal on 31 December against a five-year jail term for writing tweets deemed offensive to the state.
Nabeel Rajab should not have been arrested in the first place
- Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch
Bahrain's supreme court, whose verdicts are final, upheld the jail term against him.
Rajab was already serving a two-year term over an interview with the media in which he said Bahrain tortured political prisoners when he was charged with tweeting further about the torture and violence inflicted on detainees in Jaw prison.
"Nabeel Rajab posted false and malicious tweets, which do not fall within the freedom of expression," Bahrain's anti-corruption unit said in Friday's statement.
It said Rajab "posted false and malicious tweets harming the civil peace and social harmony," claiming that they "amount to legal violations which do not fall within the protections for freedom of expression that are guaranteed by Bahrain’s constitution".
The imprisoned activist was a leading figure of 2011 pro-democracy protests that Bahrain crushed with the help of Saudi Arabia. The government has kept a tight lid on dissent ever since.
Bahrain, which is home to the US navy's Fifth Fleet, has banned the main opposition groups, barred their members from running in elections and prosecuted scores of people, many described by human rights groups as activists, in mass trials.
The Bahraini statement came on the same day US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Gulf country, a key US ally, on the latest leg of a whistlestop Middle East tour.
It was not immediately known whether Pompeo raised human rights issues in Bahrain during his trip.
International rights groups have denounced the upholding of Rajab's sentence, with the United States expressing concern about Rajab's case.
"Nabeel Rajab's conviction for his refusal to stay silent on the government's rights abuses is further proof of the Bahrain authorities' flagrant disregard for human rights," Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement following the decision.
"Nabeel Rajab should not have been arrested in the first place, and upholding his sentence is a grave miscarriage of justice."