Bahraini activist Rajab held on incitement charges

Nabeel Rajab during an anti-government protest in Bahrain (11 February 2012) Nabeel Rajab was a vociferous opponent of the decision to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in April

A prominent human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, has been arrested in Bahrain on charges of inciting protests by using social networking websites.

He was reportedly detained on arrival at Manama's airport on Saturday after returning from a conference in Beirut.

On Sunday, a court ordered that the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) be remanded in custody for seven days pending investigation.

Mr Rajab has helped organise many protests against the government.

He is one of the most well-known activists in the Arab world, frequently speaking to the world's media and having more than 140,000 followers on Twitter.

'Defamatory' depictions

A fellow activist told the BBC Mr Rajab had been arrested on Saturday evening at Bahrain International Airport shortly after stepping off a flight from Lebanon, where he attended a conference on human rights.

On Sunday evening, the interior ministry announced Mr Rajab had appeared before the Lower Criminal Court to face charges of "inciting illegal rallies and marches online by using social networking websites".

Start Quote

It appears that these judicial harassments aim to place blocks against human rights activities”

End Quote International Federation for Human Rights

"A police investigation also revealed that the defendant's cyber incitement proved detrimental to public security as it fuelled rioting, road-blocking, arson, acts of sabotage targeting public and private properties, and the use of petrol bombs and incendiary devices," a statement said.

"Evidence has been compiled on the defendant's role in instigating online acts such as targeting policemen while on duty that has resulted in serious injuries."

The ministry said Mr Rajab had admitted posting "defamatory and humiliating" depictions of state security forces, "but was non-compliant during further detailed questioning" and refused to recognise the court.

Several hundred people gathered outside his home in Bani Jamra, west of Manama, on Sunday evening, demanding his release and chanting "down with [King] Hamad", according to the Reuters news agency.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, whose deputy secretary general is Mr Rajab, condemned the arrest.

Protest demanding the release of Nabeel Rajab on 6 May 2012 Several hundred people gathered outside Mr Rajab's home on Sunday evening, demanding his release

"The federation demands the immediate and unconditional release of Rajab and other rights defenders, while it appears that these judicial harassments aim to place blocks against human rights activities," a statement said.

The BBC's Bill Law says Mr Rajab has been at the centre of many of the protests which erupted last year demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family.

He was also a vociferous opponent of the decision to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, arguing that once it went ahead and the media spotlight receded, the authorities would take it as a "green light" to step up the deadly crackdown on dissent.

"The government will take it as a sign that the international community is turning a blind eye to the repression of the Bahraini people," he told the BBC at the time.

The authorities detained another prominent activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, at the end of April after she staged a lone protest on a motorway against the imprisonment of her father, Abdulhadi, who is on a hunger strike.

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