Bahrain Shiite activist freed, urges 'serious dialogue'

Prominent Bahraini Shiite activist Nabil Rajab issued an appeal on Sunday for "serious dialogue" in the Sunni-ruled kingdom following his release after serving a two-year jail term.

Rajab was arrested in the wake of the Sunni monarchy's crackdown on a month of Shiite-led protests in 2011 demanding political reforms, and was jailed for taking part in "unauthorised" demonstrations.

He was freed on Saturday, and is now calling for a fresh round of dialogue between the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty and the opposition representing the Gulf archipelago's Shiite majority.

"Unfortunately, the situation today is worse than when I went to jail because of an upsurge in violence, which we reject," Rajab told AFP by telephone.

"The only solution is a serious dialogue between the royal family and the opposition" dominated by the Shiite movement Al-Wefaq, said Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

"Attempts at dialogue undertaken in the past were not serious and were rather messages to reassure international public opinion" about the situation in Bahrain, he said.

The opposition has campaigned for the establishment of a genuine constitutional monarchy in Bahrain.

It took part in two rounds of national dialogue, before quitting the negotiations complaining that the authorities were not prepared to make enough concessions.

"We cannot continue to judge people, to restrict freedoms and suppress protests because violence does not produce political solutions," said Rajab, adding he still supported "peaceful demonstrations and rejects violence."

Rajab was awarded Norway's Rafto Prize for rights defenders in September along with his centre's founder, Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for plotting with others to overthrow the monarchy.

Strategically located just across the Gulf from Iran, Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is a major offshore financial and services centre for its Arab neighbours in the oil-rich Gulf.