Jailed Bahraini Shia activist denied early release

AFP , Monday 2 Dec 2013

A Bahraini court refused Monday to free prominent Shia activist Nabeel Rajab saying he was not eligible for early release from jail where he is serving a two-year sentence, a judicial source said.

Rajab was arrested in the wake of the Sunni monarchy's crackdown on a month of Shia-led protests in 2011 demanding political reforms and jailed for taking part in "unauthorised" protests.

His sentence was later reduced on appeal to two years from an initial three and according to lawyers and right groups he had been eligible for early release late last month.

"The court rejected the request made by a group of lawyers who argue that the activist is eligible for an early release after serving three quarters of his sentence," said the judicial source.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International had also called for his release saying he would have served three-quarters of his sentence by November 29.

"On Friday 29 November he will have served three-quarters of his two-year sentence and will become legally eligible for release," Amnesty had said in a statement just days before.

Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, led anti-government protests following the brutal crackdown on Shia-led demonstrations against the regime in March 2011.

In September, Norway's Rafto Prize for rights defenders was awarded to Rajab and the centre's founder, Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja who is serving a life sentence in jail for plotting with others to overthrow the monarchy.

A total of 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since the protests erupted in 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Strategically located just across the Gulf from Iran, Bahrain is home base to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is also a major offshore financial and services centre for its Arab neighbours in the oil-rich Gulf.

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