Bahrain activist Zainab al-Khawaja sentenced to jail

Zainab al-Khawaja at a protest in Manama (18 April 2012) Zainab al-Khawaja has been detained and imprisoned several times since February 2011

A court in Bahrain has sentenced pro-democracy activist Zainab al-Khawaja to three months in prison.

Ms Khawaja received the sentence after a court of appeal overturned an earlier acquittal.

The state news agency said she was found guilty of "insulting and humiliating a public employee."

Ms Khawaja has been a leading activist in the Gulf kingdom, which has been in political turmoil since pro-democracy protests erupted in February 2011.

She had previously served sentences of one and two months in two other cases.

Analysis

The government insists that Bahrain's judicial system is fair and transparent.

However the sentencing of Zainab al-Khawaja after an appeal by the state prosecutor against her earlier acquittal will be taken as a further sign by opposition forces that justice in Bahrain is heavily politicised, particularly as it happened in the same week that two police officers were acquitted in the shooting death of a protester in 2011.

A human rights lawyer told me that the court had ignored "crystal clear" evidence in that case and contrasted the treatment of activists by the courts with the treatment police officers receive.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family but the majority population is Shia who have long complained of discrimination.

In one of the earlier charges, Ms Khawaja was found guilty of entering the "prohibited area" of the site of the former Pearl Roundabout in Manama - the focus of unrest in 2011.

Her lawyers had argued that the authorities had never announced officially a ban on access to the site.

On the other charge she was convicted of damaging public property in a police station. Her lawyer said she had torn up a picture of the king.

Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is among eight activists and opposition figures sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly plotting to overthrow the state.

Bahrain crisis timeline

  • 14 February, 2011: Demonstrators occupy iconic landmark , Pearl Roundabout in the capital
  • 14 March: Gulf Cooperation Council force led by Saudi troops enters Bahrain. Police clear Pearl Roundabout
  • March-April: Hundreds arrested, thousands sacked from their jobs. Protest continue, 35 killed
  • 23 November: Protests continue as Cherif Bassiouni releases damning report on human rights abuses. Authorities accept findings
  • Feb 10, 2013: Opposition and pro-government groups open dialogue but unrest continues
'Continued harassment'

The appeal court decision was announced the day after the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a statement condemning "the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain".

The statement also made reference to "the lack of guaranteed due process" in the trials of 13 political activists, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.

Among the signatories was the United States, which had declined to sign a similar statement last year.

Bahrain is a member of an advisory committee to the UNHRC.

On 14 February 2011, peaceful protesters took over Pearl Roundabout. Three days later security forces cleared the site using tear gas, batons and birdshot.

As violence escalated 35 people, including five police officers, were killed, hundreds more were hurt and thousands jailed in February and March 2011.

Since then, opposition and human rights activists say more than 50 people have died, a figure which the government disputes.

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