May 6, 2019 / 10:23 AM / 5 months ago

Bahrain court refuses to grant jailed activist Rajab a non-custodial sentence - lawyer

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahraini court has refused to grant the jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab a non-custodial sentence instead of the jail terms he currently serving, his lawyer said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab arrives for his appeal hearing at court in Manama, February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Hamad Mohammed/File Photo

Bahrain introduced new legislation last year allowing its courts to convert jail terms into non-custodial sentences. The government said last week that courts had granted alternative sentences to 451 convicts so far.

Rajab, who played a prominent role in pro-democracy protests in 2011, was handed a five-year jail sentence and a two-year sentence for publicly criticising the government and its ally Saudi Arabia.

“Our motion has been rejected,” his lawyer Mohamed Al Jishi said. He added lawyers had requested the court to apply the new law in Rajab’s case on Apr. 30.

Rajab was sentenced last year over social media posts criticising Saudi Arabia’s air strikes in Yemen and accusing authorities of torture.

He was convicted of “spreading false news and rumours in time of war”, “insulting foreign countries” and “insulting publicly the interior ministry”, according to a court filing by his lawyers during his trial.

Bahrain’s highest court upheld the five-year sentence last December, ending avenues for appeal.

In his mid-50s, Rajab has been in jail since 2016 and served another two-year term for torture allegations he made in a news interview. He also faces a number of other cases, including over a column he wrote in the New York Times.

Amnesty International has described Rajab as a “prisoner of conscience”. The United States has also expressed concern over his case.

Bahrain, led by a Sunni Muslim royal family, clamped down on dissent after quashing the 2011 protests, led mainly by Shi’ite Muslims, with the help of Gulf Arab neighbours.

Home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, the small Gulf kingdom prosecuted and revoked the citizenship of hundreds of protesters in mass trials and banned the main opposition groups. Most of the leading Shi’ite opposition figures and human rights activists are imprisoned or fled abroad.

Bahrain’s authorities said last month they restored citizenship to 551 people but no prominent opposition figures were on the list.

Non-custodial sentences outlined in the new law include community service, electronic monitoring and repairing criminal damage.

Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Lisa Barrignton; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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