Bahrain released one of the Arab world’s best-known activists on Saturday after he served a two-year jail sentence for his role in pro-democracy protests in the US-allied kingdom, his son said and his lawyer said.
Nabeel Rajab, co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), was found guilty in August 2012 of organizing and participating in “illegal” protests to push for reforms in a dictatorship ruled by the same family since 1783.
“I have been told by his lawyers that my father has been released,” his son Adam Rajab told Reuters. He said his father was finishing paperwork for the release and would be home later on Saturday.
His family and friends later posted photographs of Rajab taken after his release visiting the grave of his mother who died during his imprisonment.
Bahrain, a base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since anti-regime protests erupted in 2011 after similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Earlier on Saturday police attacked mourners at a funeral for a 15-year-old Mahmoud Mohsen, who was shot dead by police on Wednesday.
Police regularly attack the almost daily demonstrations that have continued to take place in villages across the tiny Gulf island the 2011 uprising erupted.
Rajab rose to prominence after campaigning against a crackdown on demonstrations. He is regarded as a hero among ordinary Bahrainis, with his portrait plastered on walls across the country alongside other political prisoners including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, BCHR’s other co-founder, who was sentenced to life in jail for “plotting to overthrow” the dictatorship.
London-based Amnesty International and US-based Human Rights First had called for Rajab to be freed. He appealed to be released last year after serving three-quarters of his sentence, but the court rejected it.
Rajab was sentenced to three months in jail last year in a separate case over a tweet criticizing the prime minister, the king’s uncle. The ruling was overturned, but only after Rajab had already served his sentence.
“Nabeel’s release will be a major test for Bahrain, where most leading human rights defenders are in prison, in exile, or facing charges for their work,” Washington-based Human Rights First said in a statement before his release.