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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, October 20, 2018

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Activist gets jail for tearing Bahrain king’s photo

Amnesty International condemned the sentencing

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MANAMA, Bahrain - A Bahraini court has sentenced Zainab Al Khwaja to three years in prison for insulting the king after she tore up his photo, according to the lawyer of the prominent opposition activist who gave birth to her second child a few weeks earlier.

Khwaja, who once became a prominent symbol of pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, was sentenced Thursday and was asked to pay a fine of $8,000 for the "crime" she had committed earlier as well.

The activist was detained in October after she tore up a photo of King Hamad while in court facing charges for two previous incidents of tearing up the picture of the monarch.

In November, she gave birth to a boy after she was released from custody when she was eight months pregnant.

The global rights group, Amnesty International, condemned the sentencing and said if she was indeed jailed on the basis of the conviction, she will be considered a "prisoner of conscience" and that the group "will campaign in Bahrain to release her".

"Tearing up a photo of the head of state should not be a criminal offence. Amnesty International is calling for this and all of Zainab Al-Khawaja's other convictions to be quashed and all outstanding charges to be dropped," said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

Khawaja was not present in the court when the verdict was announced as she is still recovering after giving birth last week.

She is due back in court in the coming week to appeal convictions in the three separate cases for tearing another photo of the monarch and for allegedly insulting a police officer while in prison in June 2013 when she verbally defended another prisoner who was being insulted and humiliated, according to the Amnesty.

The dual Bahraini and Danish citizen, who is from Bahrain's most prominent dissident family, faces other cases next week. According to Amnesty International she and her family have been continually targeted by the Bahraini authorities.

"Her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a leading human rights activist and prisoner of conscience, is currently serving a life sentence. Just three days ago, her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is living in exile, was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison," the rights group said in the statement.

The activist rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, when protesters roared into a traffic circle in the capital city of Manama on Feb 14 and demanded a place for their state in the Arab Spring, a regional call for rights and democratic reform.

The US State Department's highest official on human rights, Tom Malinowsk, concluded a trip to Bahrain on Thursday, his first visit to the state since he was told to leave five months earlier.

The Bahraini Foreign Ministry had accused the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights of violating "conventional diplomatic norms" by meeting with the leader and members of the country's largest opposition party.

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