March 15, 2016 / 1:23 PM / 2 years ago

Bahraini activist begins jail term for ripping up photo of king: lawyer

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahraini activist Zainab al-Khawaja has begun a two-month prison sentence for tearing up a photo of the king, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Bahraini activist Zainab al-Khawaja (L) is greeted by Sumaiya Rajab, wife of jailed activist Nabeel Rajab, after her release from prison in Budaiya, west of Manama, February 16, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

She has been arrested and freed several times since an uprising in 2011 mainly by Bahrain’s majority Shi‘ite Muslims demanding reforms and a bigger share in government of the Sunni Muslim-led kingdom, and has already served time in prison.

International rights groups protested after the jailing on Monday of Khawaja, who took her 15-month-old son, Hadi, with her into detention rather than leave him in the care of relatives.

Her lawyer, Mohammed al-Wasti, said Khawaja’s time in prison could be extended to more than three years over other alleged offences that date to 2012. She has refused to attend appeals hearings, where the sentence was confirmed in absentia.

The Human Rights First group urged the United States, a close ally of the Gulf Arab state, to publicly call for the release of Khawaja, who is in her early 30s. Bahraini officials could not be reached for comment.

Khawaja is the daughter of prominent Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, now serving a life sentence for his role in pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago.

She has denied all charges against her. The cases relate mainly to three incidents of her ripping up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, in which she said she was exercising her right to freedom of expression.

Political unrest in Bahrain has tapered off since 2011 due to a security clampdown on opposition leaders and activists.

Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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