Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab's prison sentence reduced

Women in Bahrain hold up a placard calling for the release of Nabeel Rajab (10 December 2012) Nabeel Rajab is prolific Twitter user with more than 185,000 followers

An appeals court in Bahrain has reduced the prison sentence handed to prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab from three years to two.

The court upheld Mr Rajab's conviction of encouraging "illegal gatherings".

His lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, told AP news agency that he had been cleared of a charge of insulting police.

Mr Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been a leader of the pro-democracy protests which have rocked the kingdom since February 2011.

The 48-year-old is also one of the most well-known activists in the Arab world, with more than 185,000 followers on Twitter.

Mr Rajab's wife, Sumaya, said she had spoken to him briefly in court on Tuesday after the appeal against his conviction was rejected.

"He told me he was not expecting two years. He was thinking that they would release him," she told the BBC.

Mr Rajab was originally sentenced to a year on each of three identical charges but in two cases the sentences were cut in half.

Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch called the decision "bizarre".

"The Bahraini judiciary is extremely politicised," he said, noting the pressure that international human rights groups have put on the government to release Mr Rajab and other political prisoners.

"They gave an inch to international concern but Nabeel Rajab is still facing two years in jail, punished for exercising his right to freedom of association."

On Sunday, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner urged the authorities to "drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving non-violent political expression and freedom of assembly".

The next day, another activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, was sentenced a month in prison for entering the "prohibited area" of the former site of Manama's Pearl Roundabout - the focus of last year's unrest.

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