A Bahraini court has rejected a request by a human rights advocate that he be freed after serving three-quarters of a prison term for taking part in unlicensed protests.

Lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab, sentenced last year to two years in prison for cases related to organising and participating in protests, had a legal right to early release after spending a year and half in jail.

Recent weeks have seen an increased targeting of human rights defenders by the authorities and freeing him would have gone against that trend.

Brian Dooley, Human Rights First

"But the court rejected the request to release him without giving any reasons," Jishi told the Reuters news agency by telephone from the capital Manama after the ruling.

The government's Information Affairs Authority confirmed the court had deemed Rajab "not eligible" for early release.

"Rajab has continuously called upon the citizens to defy the laws of public gathering which resulted in violence," the IAA said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Tuesday.

It said many security personnel had been wounded by people throwing petrol bombs and steel rods as a result.

"Rajab's speeches included encouraging youths to confront the authorities," the IAA said. "Incitement of any sort is a violation of the constitution and laws of Bahrain that are in line with international standards."

Rajab shot to prominence in 2011 when he campaigned against a crackdown on protesters.

Rights groups Amnesty International and the US-based Human Rights First have called for him to be freed.

"It's depressing but no big surprise that Nabeel Rajab was not released," said Brian Dooley, of Human Rights First.

"Recent weeks have seen an increased targeting of human rights defenders by the authorities and freeing him would have gone against that trend."

Source: Reuters