Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has defended the decision of a court to lengthen the jail sentence handed down to Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the main Shi'ite Muslim opposition movement, following criticism from Amnesty International.
A Bahraini appeals court on Tuesday lengthened his sentence to nine years from four, a decision slammed as a "shocking attack on the right to freedom of expression".
Sheikh Ali Salman, who is the secretary general of the main opposition party al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, was originally sentenced in June last year on charges including “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry” and “publicly inciting others to disobey the law”.
According to the Bahrain News Agency, the defendant was found guilty of giving hate speeches and inciting violence against Bahraini police publicly.
"The charges were not at all related to any political views he may hold. The right to freedom of expression is clearly enshrined in Bahrain’s constitution and guaranteed by Bahraini law," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It added that the defendant’s sentencing followed a "full, independent and transparent trial, attended by numerous observers, including representatives from foreign embassies and NGOs".
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it urged all parties to respect the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
The Ministry also confirmed that the defendant has the right to appeal the sentence in accordance with due process as guaranteed by the criminal justice laws in the kingdom.
On Tuesday, James Lynch, Amnesty’s deputy director of Middle East and North Africa Programme, said: “Sheikh Ali Salman’s conviction is clearly politically motivated and is designed to send a message to others that even legitimate and peaceful demands for reform will not go unpunished.
"He is a prisoner of conscience and should never have been put on trial in the first place. He must be immediately and unconditionally released."For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.