Canadian citizen faces five years in Bahrain prison for peacefully demonstrating

Twelve of thirteen defendants were acquitted today by a Bahraini court, including Wafi Al-Majed, the husband of human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to four years in prison. Al-Khawaja, who tweets under the username @angryarabiya, expressed joy on the social networking site today:

 

Zainab, who is the daughter of well-known human rights activist Abdulhady Al-Khawaja, still waits for the release of her father, who has been in prison since 9 April:

 

While twelve of the defendants, who all faced charges of illegal assembly, rioting and incitement, were able to walk free, one now faces time in prison. Naser al-Raas did not appear in court today, and for this reason the court upheld his five-year sentence.

Canadian citizen al-Raas was first detained on 20 March, while attempting to leave Bahrain. Prior to his arrest, al-Raas attended protests peacefully, took pictures and tweeted his views. Charged with “inciting to hatred” and “spreading false news,” al-Raas told Index that he was “surprised” by the court’s decision to uphold the sentence, because Public Prosecutor Fadhil Al-Buainain recently said that all charges related to free expression will be dropped. al-Raas believes that his unchanged charges confirms that government officials are “lying.”

The 29-year-old IT specialist refused to go to court out of fear of returning to jail. “I didn’t want to take that risk, after what I experienced last time, I don’t want to go through that again,” said al-Raas. During his 31 days in prison, al-Raas was tortured and deprived of medication for his heart condition. al-Raas said that he and his lawyer are unsure of their next steps, on account of the unclear legal process, but they “reject the verdict.”

Canadian authorities have asked the Bahraini government to commute al-Raas’s sentence, but he believes that they should be calling for the charges against him to be dropped. He said it was “unacceptable” that he might face five years in prison for expressing his beliefs.