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US citizen sentenced to prison in Bahrain after anti-government protest

Unusual prison sentence draws international attention to the tiny Middle Eastern kingdom on the same day that Obama makes controversial remarks about its human rights issues.
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Bahraini protesters wave their national flags as they take part in an anti-government protest in the village of Jannusan, west of the capital Manama, on September 27, 2013. Thousands took to the streets in Bahrain to condemn the arrest of ex-MP Marzooq, hours after clashes between protesters and police, officials and witnesses said. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH (MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images)

US citizen Tagi al-Maidan received on Tuesday a 10-year prison sentence in Bahrain for attempted murder charges.

Maidan, who is of Bahraini and Saudi descent, was detained in the tiny Middle Eastern kingdom last October in connection to his involvement in the anti-government protests that have been occurring there almost daily since February of 2011.

His sister, who attended the sentencing and said that US consular officials were present, said, "After the sentence was read, Tagi was calm and he looked down towards the ground. He was in a state of shock."

"The sentence was 10 years. We will appeal as soon as possible," his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi said.

"The sentence was unexpected. There is no conclusive evidence against Tagi."

Maidan told Reuters that he did plead guilty, but his confessions were falsely made under torture.

The Bahraini government denies these allegations, saying they have a “zero tolerance policy” towards torture.

Maidan’s status as an American has thrust Bahrain into the international spotlight.

Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy rules over a majority Shiite population that has been demonstrating against the government daily since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

Compared to other nations like Libya, Egypt, and Syria, Bahrain has received noticeably less criticism from the US for its brutal crackdowns on civilian protestors in a situation that has come to be known as “the Bahrain exception.” 

However, on the same day Maidan received his 10-year sentence, Obama made comments about Bahrain in a speech to the UN General Assembly that suggested a shift in tone towards US relations with the nation. The president mentioned "efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.”

This comment offended members of the Bahraini government, including Bahrain’s ambassador to the US, Houda Nonoo, who wrote on her official blog that she was "disappointed to hear him [Obama] compare the situation in Bahrain to that of the current situation in Iraq and the unfolding tragedies in Syria."

Bahrain’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdallah al-Khalifa said the nation had "never witnessed at any time sectarian tensions" in a statement on the state news agency on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, said the kingdom fostered a culture of tolerance between its various communities, according to Reuters.

His statement "clarified that what is occurring in Bahrain today is a concerted effort by terrorist extremist groups to target security personnel and expatriates with the intent of spreading fear and division within Bahrain's society, as well as targeting Bahrain's national economy and development."

Bahrain has been a key regional ally of both Saudi Arabia and the US. It is also home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/belief/us-citizen-sentenced-prison-bahrain-protest