Jan 20, 10:31 AM EST

Bahrain rights activist gets 6 months in jail over tweets


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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain's best-known human rights activists, was sentenced to six months in jail Tuesday after being found guilty of insulting government ministries on Twitter.

Rajab can remain free on bail for now as he appeals his case, said his lawyer, Jalila al-Sayed. But he is unable to leave the tiny island kingdom, which has been roiled by nearly four years of unrest led by its majority Shiites calling for greater political rights from the Sunni leadership.

Bahraini authorities backed by security forces from neighboring Gulf states put down widespread protests in 2011, but sporadic demonstrations and other low-level unrest continue. Clashes between activists and police erupted again Tuesday in Bilad al-Qadeem, a suburb of the capital Manama.

Rajab told The Associated Press that he believes authorities are using court cases to try to prevent him from pushing for greater rights in the country, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"Jailing every human rights advocate will not stop us," he said.

Rajab was charged in October with insulting the ministries of defense and interior over tweets alleging that Bahrain's security institutions were incubators for extremist ideology.

His comments followed the release of a video purportedly showing four Bahrainis who joined the Islamic State group calling on countrymen to take up arms against the tiny island country's Sunni monarchy and majority Shiite population. One of the militants was an officer who defected from Bahrain's Interior Ministry, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist groups.

Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and is active in other advocacy groups. He has been detained and prosecuted over Twitter comments in the past.

He was released from prison last May after spending nearly two years behind bars. He had been convicted on charges of encouraging "illegal gatherings" tied to anti-government protests.

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