Bahraini protesters hold a banner reading in Arabic: “Bahrain, a revolution of the people that refuse to be silent,” as they chant slogans during a demonstration to mark the fourth anniversary of the uprising on February 14, 2015, in the village of Daih on the outskirts of the capital Manama. Bahraini police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who took to the streets for the fourth anniversary of an uprising that deeply divided the key US ally. AFP/Mohammed al-Shaikh
A Bahrain appeals court on Sunday upheld a six-month prison sentence against a senior leader of the main opposition al-Wefaq group handed down last month over tweets about election financing, his lawyer said.
Jamil Kazem, a former parliament member and president of al-Wefaq’s consultative council, was sentenced to six months in jail and fined 500 dinars ($1,350) by a court in Manama on charges of making false allegations that undermined national elections.
The public prosecutor at the time said Kazem had claimed in statements to the media that some candidates were paid money to run in last November’s parliamentary elections which were boycotted by the opposition.
He is one of several opposition figures to have been jailed for tweets or public remarks in recent months, in what opposition officials say is a campaign by authorities to crack down on the opposition which is demanding political and economic reforms.
Kazem’s lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlawi, said in a message on his Twitter account that the appeals court had upheld the ruling of the lower court.
“The appeals criminal court confirmed the jailing of Mr Jamil Kazem over his tweets about the role of political money in the elections auction,” he wrote.
Political activists have been prosecuted by Bahraini authorities for attempting to voice out and expose gross human rights violations by al-Khalifa ruling family, which has been in power for over 200 years.
Crackdown on dissent has spiked in the past years in the country where insulting the king is a felony. In April, Bahrain’s cabinet endorsed an amendment to article 214 of the penal code to increase from two to five years the maximum sentence for such a “crime.”
Last month, al-Wefaq’s head, Sheikh Ali Salman, regarded as the country’s most senior opposition leader, went on trial on charges of promoting the violent overthrow of the political system, a case that has riled his followers and inflamed unrest in the Gulf Arab state.
Al-Wefaq boycotted a parliamentary election last year partly because it said voting districts favored the Sunni minority in the majority Shia kingdom.
Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based, has been in turmoil since mass protests in 2011 called for a “real” constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister who is independent of the ruling royal family and demanded reforms and a bigger share in government.
With the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, authorities crushed the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that began on February 14, 2011, in a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.
At least 93 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since the uprising erupted.
Bahrain says it has implemented wide reforms and accuses the opposition of making unreasonable demands.
Over the weekend that marked the fourth anniversary of the uprising, protesters took to the streets as police fired tear gas and sound bombs and beefed up security around several villages and along major roads across the country.
According to the weekly statistics of Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a total of 113 citizens were arrested from February 9 to 15, including 19 children. Twenty five detained were released later.
In its 2014 annual report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the ombudsman’s office established in Bahrain since 2011 in the Ministry of Interior and the Special Investigations Unit in the Public Prosecution Office that have been almost useless so far.
Neither of these offices have taken any measures to hold senior officials accountable for human rights abuses or address what the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) characterized as a “culture of impunity.”