Freedom of expression? No flashy hashtags or YouTube hits but Bahrain's activists still face jail time

Published September 27th, 2012 - 08:53 GMT
Zainab al-Khawaja, Bahrain activist (courtesy of the Times of Ummah)
Zainab al-Khawaja, Bahrain activist (courtesy of the Times of Ummah)

The daughter of an imprisoned Bahraini activist was jailed for two months on Wednesday for tearing up a picture of the Gulf Arab state's king, her lawyer said.

Zainab al-Khawaja is better known by her Twitter handle @angryarabiya, where she wrote about human rights abuses in the Gulf monarchy on a nearly daily basis.

"For the past 5 hours, I've had security following me closely wherever I go. They wait for me outside every store I go into," she wrote two weeks before her arrest in an early morning police crackdown that left 45 people injured.

Bahrain, headquarters of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protests erupted last year and were put down by the ruling government.

Al-Khawaja, daughter of leading activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was arrested at a protest in August that was dispersed by security forces using tear gas and birdshot.

Her defense lawyer called the sentence harsh.

"Usually sentences for such crimes are just fines," Mohammed al-Jishi told Reuters by telephone from Manama.

Jishi said she faced eight more charges related to participating in protests. The next court hearing is on Oct. 4.

Her father went on a hunger strike for more than three months earlier this year to protest against his imprisonment.

The ruling Al Khalifa family used martial law and help from Gulf neighbors to put down last year's uprising, but unrest has resumed.

Protesters and police clash almost daily and Washington has called on its ally to talk to the opposition.

Bahraini authorities accuse regional power Iran of encouraging the unrest and has vowed a tough response to violent protests as talks with the opposition have stalled.

Earlier this month, a Bahraini court upheld jail sentences of up to 25 years against leaders of last year's uprising. Last Saturday, 29 people were arrested for participating in weekend protests in the capital.

Last week, the kingdom pledged before the UN Human Rights Council to improve its treatment of political activists, crack down on torture, and prevent violence against ethnic and religious communities. Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, told council representatives in Geneva that Bahrain would accept the majority of the body's recommendations but stopped short of agreeing to abolish the death penalty.


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