Photo courtesy of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom/Website
June 10 (UPI) -- Bahrain has released human rights activist Nabeel Rajab after nearly four years in prison on charges of criticizing the government online, his organization confirmed.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said its president, Rajab, was released from jail due to health concerns days before the fourth anniversary of his arrest and will serve his remaining three years as a non-custodial sentence.
"Rajab was released in what is known as alternative sentences," the center said in a statement on Tuesday. "In a message from one of his siblings, it was written that the health condition of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was deplorable. He was released due to his weak immunity and poor health."
Rajab was sentenced to five years in prison by a Bahraini criminal court on Feb. 21, 2018, over tweets he made in 2015 concerning alleged torture occurring in the country's infamous Jaw Prison and the alleged killings of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.
His detention attracted widespread condemnation, prompting a U.N. panel on arbitrary detention and nearly 130 rights groups to call for his release in August 2018.
Rajab's release on Tuesday was cheered by the United States, which said it is an indication that the Middle Eastern kingdom was moving to improve its human rights record.
"This is a step in the right direction and should be followed by additional releases of political and religious prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic," U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Vice Chair Gayle Manchin said in a statement.
In March, Bahrain released nearly 1,500 prisoners due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
A statement from Bahrain's Ministry of Health says as of Tuesday the kingdom has recorded more than 16,000 confirmed cases and 29 deaths to the deadly and infectious coronavirus.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East research director, said it was "a relief" to know that Rajab has been reunited with his family but that the government needs to now nullify his charges.
"Nabeel's release must now be accompanied by the quashing of his conviction and sentence, the dropping of any outstanding charges brought against him in relation to his expression of peaceful opinion and an end to the injustice he has been put through," Maalouf said in a statement. "Instead of releasing him on a non-custodial sentence, the authorities must quash all sentences brought against him and ensure his access to remedy for the violations he has suffered during this time."
Husain Abdulla, executive director at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, called for the release of all political activists behind bars in Bahrain, many of whom are elderly and suffer from pre-existing health conditions.
"Bahrain's prisons remain crowded with peaceful human rights defenders and opposition leaders, whose lives are threatened by the government's inadequate response to COVID-19," he said in a statement. "Nabeel Rajab's release must be extended to all political leaders and opposition who remain unjustly incarcerated in Bahrain."