December 22, 2016 / 10:52 AM / 7 months ago

Bahrain questions activist over criticism of Gulf states

3 Min Read

DUBAI, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Bahraini authorities have questioned detained activist Nabeel Rajab about an article under his name in France's Le Monde daily containing what they called misinformation and "false rumours" about Gulf Arab states.

An interior ministry statement announcing this on Thursday also said it had referred its case against Rajab, one of the Arab world's most prominent human rights activists, to the kingdom's public prosecutors. It gave no other details.

Rajab is already on trial on charges of spreading false information about Bahrain and "disseminating rumours at a time of war," a reference to Yemen, where a coalition of Arab countries including Bahrain is fighting the Iranian-allied Houthi group.

It was not clear if Rajab, a leader of a 2011 pro-democracy uprising led by Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim majority, was being questioned about the Le Monde article in the context of his current trial or in possible preparation for a separate lawsuit.

The ministry's statement said its cybercrime unit had "monitored an article in Le Monde ascribed to Nabeel Rajab and comprising misinformation and false rumours against of the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in a bid to harm their national interests."

When questioned, Rajab denied writing the article, the ministry said. Activists challenged that, saying that article and one he wrote for the New York Times in September showed he championed human rights in the face of repression.

The Le Monde article carrying Rabaj's byline said Western nations should reconsider their support for Gulf Arab monarchies because they were fuelling Islamist extremism.

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has a Shi'ite majority but a Sunni Muslim-led government, mainly drawn from the ruling al-Khalifa family. Seen by other Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdoms like Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iranian influence, it put down Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Rajab, who has been detained repeatedly since 2011, was arrested in June on charges related to anti-government tweets published last year, including one accusing the security forces of torturing detainees. In September 2016, prosecutors filed further charges accusing him of damaging Bahrain's reputation.

The United States has called for his release.

His trial has coincided with what rights groups say is an escalating crackdown on opposition groups and rights activists.

The Bahraini government denies systematic rights abuses. (Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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