A Bahraini appeals court on Thursday overturned a conviction of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab [JURIST news archive]. Bahrain's government attributed the ruling [AP report] to "uncertainty regarding the evidence submitted to support the lawsuit." Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights [advocacy website], was arrested in June and has served half of a three-month sentence [JURIST reports] for posting anti-government comments on his Twitter page [corporate website], where he has over 155,000 followers. His comments suggested [Reuters report] that residents of al-Muharraq district had made a recent show of support for Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa only for financial gain. Commenting on the ruling [press release], UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders [official website] Margaret Sekaggya called on the Bahraini government to "immediately cease its campaign of persecution of human rights defenders in the country." Maina Kiai [official profile], Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, echoed the call, stating that "the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be subject to prior authorization from the authorities." The UN independent experts called for the immediate release of Rajab [UN News Centre report], who is still in prison on a three-year sentence imposed earlier this month [JURIST report] after he was convicted on three separate counts of taking part in "illegal gatherings" that yielded a one-year sentence each.
Tension between Bahrain's government and protesters has been on the rise since government forces clashed with protesters last year during pro-democracy demonstrations, which have taken place on an almost daily basis since the February 2011 Shiite majority uprising seeking greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. The Bahrain Information Affairs authority announced last month that they had brought charges against 15 police officers [JURIST report] for alleged "mistreatment of inmates in custody." In June the government announced that it would pay $2.6 million in restitution [JURIST report] to citizens who lost family members during the violent protests to comply with recommendations of an independent commission who concluded that Bahrain authorities had used excessive force and tortured detainees involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations.