DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain on Monday postponed until Dec. 15 the trial of prominent democracy activist Nabeel Rajab to permit more investigation of a Twitter account he is accused of using to publish criticism of the government, the government and his human rights group said.
Rajab’s Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said the High Criminal Court postponed the trial for a fourth time to enable it to hire a cyber crime expert to verify that the Twitter handle in question was managed by him.
In a statement, the government said: “The court took the decision to allow time for expert analysis to be conducted on a digital platform managed by Rajab to confirm if the statements posted on the account were carried out by another author.”
It added that the charges, classified as criminal under the penal code, included promoting “misleading and inaccurate information about Bahrain and disseminating rumors at a time of war,” a reference to Yemen, where a coalition of Arab countries including Bahrain is fighting the Iranian-allied Houthi group.
Rajab continued to be afforded full legal rights and access to legal counsel, it said.
Rajab’s Centre commented: “The reopening of his case throws a light on the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.”
Rajab, one of the most prominent rights activists in the Arab world and founder of his rights advocacy group, has been repeatedly imprisoned since pro-democracy unrest flared in the Western-allied, Gulf Arab kingdom in 2011.
A staunch U.S. ally, Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet as a bulwark against Iran on the other side of the Gulf.
Rajab was arrested in June on charges related to anti-government tweets published last year, including one accusing the security forces of torturing detainees. In September 2016, prosecutors filed further charges accusing him of damaging Bahrain’s reputation.
The U.S. State Department on Friday reiterated a call for his release, saying it rejected the charges against Rajab and Bahrain should respect freedom of expression.
The UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy quoted his wife Sumaya as saying the continued detention of Rajab, in his early 50s, was very worrying for their family.
“Why do they keep him locked away? He is not going to cause harm. We are concerned about his deteriorating health,” she was quoted as saying.
Rajab’s arrest in June came nearly a year after he had been freed by a royal pardon from a six-month sentence handed out in May 2015 for making alleged remarks deemed insulting to the kingdom’s security establishment.
His trial has coincided with what rights groups say is an escalating crackdown on opposition groups and rights activists.
The Bahraini government denies systematic rights abuses.
(Reporting by William Maclean; editing by Richard Balmforth)