DUBAI (Reuters) - A leading Bahraini opposition activist accused of insulting authorities remained in jail on Sunday, despite being granted bail, because he faces a second charge of organizing illegal protests, his lawyer said.
Nabeel Rajab is the founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who led many protests that were part of an on-going uprising led by the Shi‘ite Muslim majority against the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa dynasty that rules the Gulf Arab island.
“The judge agreed to the request to free him on 300 Bahraini dinar ($800) bail with a travel ban, but he has not been released because he is being detained on another charge,” said Rajab’s lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi.
Authorities, who call opposition activists the lackeys of Shi‘ite power Iran, have vowed to “get tougher” on security as talks with them have stalled. Activists say the government wants to find any way of keeping Rajab off the streets.
Bail was granted in the case of “insulting an official authority” which centers on four messages posted on the social media site Twitter that suggested the interior ministry had not carried out proper investigations into civilian deaths.
The second charge - organizing illegal demonstrations - could land Rajab with two years in jail, Jishi said last week.
Bahrain has rejected calls for an elected government and large-scale protests - which broke out in February 2011 after successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia - continue weekly in Shi‘ite villages, often resulting in clashes with police.
The desire to contain Shi‘ite dissent in Bahrain and counter Iran’s sway in the region drove recent efforts to unite the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which stumbled at a meeting of their leaders last week.
Tens of thousands of mainly Shi‘ite protesters rallied against the plan on Friday in Bahrain. A day later, around 5,000 Sunni government loyalists gathered to support closer integration with Gulf states, looking to Saudi Arabia as a lifeline.
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the United Nations to scrutinize what it called Bahrain’s deplorable” rights record when the U.N. Human Rights Council conducts its Universal Periodic Review of the country on Monday.
“The international community should push Bahrain to adopt specific measures to ensure free expression and peaceful assembly, end torture, free political prisoners, and establish credible accountability mechanisms for continuing abuses,” HRW said in a statement on Sunday.
Thirteen men jailed for leading last year’s protests remain in jail after a military court convicted them last year, despite revelations, in a report by a human rights commission in November, of systematic use of torture to extract confessions.
The case is being reheard in a civilian court.
Official figures show 35 people had died by the time a period of martial law ended in June but opposition activists say the number has risen to 81 as police try to limit protests.
The government rejects the figure and says many fatalities were due to tear gas exposure by people with prior health conditions.
Activists say five people have died in suspicious circumstances this year, including a 23-year-old who prosecutors say drowned but who, according to an independent autopsy made public last week, were likely tortured with electricity first. ($1 = 0.3770 Bahraini dinars)
Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Robin Pomeroy