The European Union on Thursday voiced concern over the three-year prison term given to Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab for taking part in unauthorized protests in the Middle East nation, and expressed hopes that his case would be reconsidered on appeal.
In a statement issued by her office on Thursday, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said she expected that "this sentence in Mr. Rajab's case will be reconsidered in the appeal process and that the same treatment will be given to all Bahraini citizens who are being tried for charges relating to the exercise of their fundamental freedoms."
Stressing that "fair and impartial justice" remains a key requirement to overcome the current challenges in Bahrain, Ashton urged "all components of Bahraini society to contribute to dialogue and national reconciliation in a peaceful and constructive manner, without further delays."
Earlier on Thursday, Bahrain's Lower Criminal Court had sentenced Rajab to three years in prison in three different cases. The charges against him included participating in illegal rallies and gatherings as well as inciting and organizing anti-government protests through speeches and posting on social websites.
Incidentally, Rajab is currently serving a three-month prison sentence handed down in July for criticizing the country's Prime Minister on social networking websites. He was one of the chief organizers of last year's pro-democracy protests that rocked the tiny island Kingdom in the Persian Gulf.
Rajab, who heads the non-governmental Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was arrested by authorities on May 5 at Manama airport upon his return from the Lebanese capital Beirut. He was accused of using social media to encourage demonstrations against the ruling monarchy in the oil-rich country.
Rajab's lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi reportedly told journalists on Thursday that his client would appeal the latest sentencing. The lawyer added that Rajab's appeal against his sentencing in July has been deferred to August 23.
Bahrain continues to witness frequent anti-government protests, and allegations of government violence are heard almost every day despite promises of reforms made by the country's monarchy. It is estimated that at least 60 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests broke out in Bahrain in February 2011.
The protests are being staged by the Opposition and Bahrain's Shiite majority, who has long been complaining about discrimination in housing and government jobs. They are demanding greater political rights and want the monarchy to hand over most of its powers to the elected Parliament.
The political turmoil in Bahrain has been of particular concern to the United States since the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based in the strategically-located island nation. The U.S. also fears that the tiny kingdom with its Shia-majority population could come under Iranian influence.
Last week, several members of the U.S. Congress had sent a letter to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, urging him "to order Mr. Rajab's release under the universal principle that that all citizens should have the right to peacefully express disagreement with their government."
by RTT Staff Writer
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