Bahrain jails secular opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif

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Ibrahim Sharif (20 June 2015)Image source, AP
Image caption,
Ibrahim Sharif was arrested less than a month after being released from prison

A court in Bahrain has sentenced a secular Sunni opposition leader to one year in prison for inciting hatred.

Ibrahim Sharif, a former secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society, was arrested after making a speech calling for reform.

He was also accused of incitement to overthrow the government by force, but the court dismissed the charge.

Mr Sharif gave the speech in July, a month after being released from prison for his role in the 2011 uprising.

Bahrain has been racked by unrest since February 2011, when demonstrators occupied Manama's Pearl Roundabout, demanding greater political rights and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia community by the Sunni royal family.

The protesters were driven out by security forces the following month, after the king brought in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states to restore order and crush dissent.

At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since 2011, while hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, activists say.

'Outrageous attack'

Mr Sharif was charged with "incitement to hatred and contempt of the regime" and "incitement to overthrow the regime by force and illegal means" after giving a speech at a public gathering to commemorate the death of a 16-year-old boy shot by riot police in 2012.

Image source, AFP
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Amnesty International said Mr Sharif had peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression

In the speech, he spoke about the need for change in Bahrain, highlighted the political opposition's commitment to non-violence and urged the government to introduce key economic reforms, according to Amnesty International.

"The sentencing of Ibrahim Sharif to yet another year in prison simply for calling for reform in a speech is an outrageous attack on freedom of expression and the latest example of the Bahraini authorities' insidious clampdown on government critics," said the human rights group's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, James Lynch.

"No-one should be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views. Ibrahim Sharif's conviction is a blatant attempt to punish him for speaking out, serving as a warning to all dissidents, and must be quashed immediately."

Mr Sharif's arrest and detention in July came less than a month after he had been released from prison following a royal pardon.

He had served four years of a five-year sentence handed to him after what Amnesty described as an unfair trial that saw him and 20 other opposition activists involved in the 2011 protests found guilty of attempting to change the constitution and monarchical system "by force".

Last June, the secretary-general of Bahrain's main opposition party, Wefaq, was sentenced to four years in jail on similar charges of inciting hatred, inciting others to disobey the law, and publicly insulting the interior ministry.

Sheikh Ali Salman is currently appealing against the convictions, which were based on statements he made in speeches in 2012 and 2014.