A Bahraini online activist has been sentenced to six months in jail for Twitter posts allegedly insulting the king. Three other bloggers remain in custody, awaiting court rulings, in the latest crackdowns on opposition by the government.
Bahrain’s civil court also confiscated the activists laptop and cell phone.
Court rulings on the three other Twitter activists charged with slandering King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa are expected next week.
The government announced the arrests on October the 17th and promised a swift and “urgent trial before a criminal court.”
Activists, whose names have not been released yet, appeared in court on October 22. They denied the accusations of posting insulting comments about King Hamad bin Isa Al-Thani, saying they were innocent.
The recent cases mirrors other social media crackdowns by Bahraini rulers.
Twitter and other social networking sites have proven pivotal as the opposition movement has struggled to voice discontent
One of the most prominent opposition activists in the country, Nabeel Rajab, was arrested in June this year and sentenced to three months behind bars over comments he made on Twitter, critical of the Bahraini Prime Minister, but was later acquitted on appeal.
However, in August he was sentenced to three years for allegedly encouraging illegal protests and violence in Bahrain. He is currently challenging the sentence and his next hearing will take place on November 8.
The leaders of the Bahrain teachers Association were sentenced to between three and 10 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force and inciting hatred of the regime” and for their role in organizing a teachers’ strike in support of the opposition’s call for reforms.
Harsh crackdowns against the opposition by the Gulf kingdom rulers have prompted widespread condemnation from human rights groups. Numerous responses by security forces have already claimed lives of dozens including children.
The case of four recently arrested online activists comes two days after the government imposed a ban on protest gatherings and rallies.
The ruling announced on Tuesday makes rallies and gatherings illegal and imposes legal actions against anyone calling for or taking part in them.
The UN chief Ban Ki-moon criticized Bahrain's rulers Thursday saying the restrictions violate international human rights standards, including respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
At the same time the United States, has been accused of turning a blind eye to crackdowns against the opposition. Some critics link that to the fact that Bahrain currently hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for their maritime forces in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and beyond.
Bahrain has been facing widespread unrest since February 2011, as the Arab Spring revolutions swept across the region. The unrest was fueled by sectarian divisions – the country's ruling families are Sunni Muslims, while 70 per cent of the population are Shiites, who are demanding greater rights and freedoms.
One of the primary demands of the protesters has been for the prime minister, who has been in office since 1971, to step down.