31 January 2007

MANAMA - A court in Bahrain on Wednesday sent two political activists to jail for possessing leaflets calling for a boycott of recent legislative elections, their lawyer said.

Mohammed Saeed Al Sahlawi, a dentist, received a one-year jail sentence while insurance executive Hussein al Hibshi was sentenced to six months in prison, lawyer Mohammed Ahmad told AFP.

“This ruling is unfair and illogical. It bypassed the defence argument... that the defendants were only exercising their right to free expression and that the material seized in their possession stressed the need to abide by peaceful means in expressing views,” Ahmad said.

“We have no choice but to appeal the ruling,” the lawyer added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch had on Tuesday urged Bahrain to drop the charges against the two political activists, who went on trial on January 7 on charges of possessing unlicensed leaflets ”containing inflammatory material and false information.”

The pair were arrested last November 16 after being found with leaflets that called for a boycott of the November 25 legislative polls.

They were charged under articles of Bahrain’s penal code which ”criminalise the dissemination and possession of materials that could “damage the public interest’,” HRW said.

The Shiite-led opposition won control of more than 40 percent of seats in parliament, which however has to share its legislative powers with an upper chamber appointed by the king.

The arrangement prompted a boycott of 2002 polls, the first since the parliament was scrapped in 1975. Some of Bahrain’s opposition kept up the boycott because demands for constitutional changes were not met.