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Fri 4 Jan 2019 06:12 PM

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UN calls for release of Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab

UN human rights office makes call after activist is sentenced to five years in prison for tweets

UN calls for release of Bahrain activist Nabeel Rajab
A Bahraini Shiite Muslim youth holds a picture of prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a demonstration. (MOHAMMED ALSHAIKH/AFP/GettyImages)

The United Nations on Friday called for the release of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini activist sentenced to five years in jail for tweeting criticism of the Yemen war.

"We call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and to ensure that all Bahrainis are able to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression without fear of arbitrary detention," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office.

"We urge the government of Bahrain to stop criminalising dissenting voices."

Rajab, who played a key role in the 2011 Shiite-led anti-government protests, on Monday lost his final appeal against a five-year jail term for writing tweets deemed offensive to the state.

Bahrain's supreme court, whose verdicts are final, upheld the jail term against him.

He was convicted of endangering the Saudi-led military campaign, which includes Sunni-ruled Bahrain, in Yemen and publicly offending a foreign country, a reference to Saudi Arabia.

Rajab is also serving a two-year sentence in a separate case linked to interviews with the foreign press.

Home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and a British military base, Bahrain is located between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran and has been ruled for more than two centuries by the Al-Khalifa dynasty.

The country's population is mostly Shiite Muslim, according to unofficial estimates contested by the government.

Authorities have jailed dozens of high-profile activists and disbanded both religious and secular opposition groups since Shiite-led protests demanding political change erupted in 2011.

They have stripped hundreds of those convicted of their citizenship, leaving many stateless.

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