The US has expressed its disappointment over the sentencing of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist who helped lead Bahrain's Arab Spring protests, urging the Gulf nation to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect fundamental freedoms. Nabeel Rajab, 52, was yesterday sentenced to two years in prison on charges related to TV interviews he gave in which he allegedly disseminated rumours and false news relating to the situation inside Bahrain. Rajab's case drew particular attention because he helped lead Bahrain's 2011 Arab Spring protests, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand a greater say in the government. The State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert reiterated the US' call for his release. "We believe no one anywhere should be prosecuted or imprisoned for exercising their human rights or fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly," she said. The US, she said, believes societies are strengthened, not threatened, by expressions of opinion and dissent, and that opposition voices can play a vital role in helping societies become more tolerant and inclusive. "We have repeatedly expressed our concern about Nabeel Rajab's case, and we continue to strongly urge Bahrain to abide by its international obligations and commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression," Nauert said. Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the sentencing of Rajab to two years in prison is deeply troubling. "His health has seriously deteriorated while in Bahraini government custody, and I am concerned that he is not receiving appropriate medical attention and care.
I have closely following Rajab's case, and firmly believe that he should never have been imprisoned or placed on trial in the first place. The criminal charges against him should have been dropped," he said. "The sentencing of Rajab demonstrates a serious step backwards, and undermines my confidence in the Bahraini government's commitment to reform," said the top American Senator.