Middle East

Twitter activists jailed in Bahrain for insulting king

Nabeel Rajab's supporters on the streets of the Bahraini capital, Manama
Nabeel Rajab has over 200,000 followers on twitter

A court in Bahrain has sentenced six activists to a year in jail for insulting King Hamad in messages posted on Twitter.

They were convicted for what the Bahraini public prosecutor called the "misuse of freedom of expression".

The sentences come as the government and courts continue their crackdown on protest and dissent.

Pro-democracy protests, both peaceful and violent, have rocked the Gulf island kingdom since February 2011.

One of those convicted was lawyer Mahdi al-Basri, who was held responsible for "offensive" tweets attacking King Hamad and the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Mr al-Basri did not send the tweets himself, but served as a lawyer for a community account that posted the material.

One human rights lawyer, who asked not to be named, said the conviction was part of a broader campaign of harassment by the government.

Mr al-Basri "wasn't even involved in any human rights cases and yet he has been jailed," the lawyer told the BBC.

The sentences were announced on Wednesday, the same day the family of jailed activist Nabeel Rajab told the BBC of their concerns for his wellbeing.

His wife Sumaya Rajab said she was "very worried" about him.

Mrs Rajab said she had been told by a relative of another prisoner that he had been moved from his cell. However, prison authorities denied the allegation.

Mrs Rajab said this happened after her husband called her on Tuesday, telling her he had seen young prisoners being beaten.

The claim spread very quickly on social network sites. Mr Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and has over 200,000 followers on Twitter.

He has served nearly 12 months of a two-year term for encouraging "illegal gatherings".

Mrs Rajab said she met the head of the prison on Wednesday, who told her that her husband "is OK and he is in his cell."

But she said when she asked to see him "even for two minutes to see he was alright" her request was refused.

A statement provided to the BBC by the Interior ministry rejected what it called "rumours on social media on Wednesday regarding inmate Nabeel Rajab". It added: "The (Prison) Director emphasised that all operations within Jaw Prison are normal and that all prisoners are treated equally without malice or favour."

The director is quoted in the statement as saying: "Rajab is housed with other inmates, was not transferred to another location and was not subject to solitary confinement."

Another prominent human rights activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, who was jailed for three months in March, was sentenced last week to an additional three months in prison on a charge related to an illegal gathering.

Her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently serving a life sentence for plotting the overthrow of the government, on evidence that is widely accepted as having been secured under torture.

Both he and his daughter have been refused family visits for refusing to wear prison uniforms.