Bahraini activist found not guilty for Twitter post

Court acquits prominent human rights activist on charges of spreading false information via Twitter post. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Bahraini human rights activist Yousif Al Muhafda, centre, speaks to riot police during a protest in Manama on December 17.
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A Bahraini court yesterday acquitted a prominent human rights activist of charges of spreading false information on Twitter.
Said Yousif Al Muhafda was arrested along with several other activists in December during a protest in central Manama. The activist, who is the head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, spent one month in prison before being released on bail.
"He was found innocent," his lawyer, Mohammed Al Jishi, said from Manama yesterday. "The judge is still writing the reason for the judgment, but we know this [is the] verdict."
After yesterday's ruling, Mr Al Jishi said the prosecution could appeal the verdict, though he had no indication they would do so.
Mr Muhafda's trial was one of a series of cases surrounding information posted on Twitter, which has become a ubiquitous tool of communication for both pro-government and opposition groups in Bahrain.
A colleague of Mr Muhafda, Nabeel Rajab, was acquitted of two charges for messages posted on Twitter last year. Rajab is currently serving a two-year sentence for several convictions of attending illegal protests.
Mr Al Jishi said at least four other Twitter users had also been jailed in recent months for messages, three for six months and one for a year.
Yesterday's ruling comes as Bahrain's political groups are holding a National Dialogue aimed at ending a political deadlock that began two years ago.
In February 2011, opposition protesters held massive Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in Manama's central Pearl Roundabout calling for reforms. Security forces disbanded the gathering, but protests continued, and the government said more than 90 people have died in the subsequent 25 months of unrest.
The Shiite-led opposition has called for greater participation in government and an end to what they say is economic and political discrimination in the country.
But the government says it has made numerous reforms over the last two years and has called for an end to daily demonstrations in Shiite communities, which often end in clashes between protesters and police.
At the next session of the 27-member national dialogue on Wednesday, a working group of delegates is scheduled to present a draft agenda for review by all members of the talks.
Delegates expect the dialogue to continue for months.
Mr Al Muhafda, who was not at court yesterday because he is in meetings at the UN Human Right Council in Geneva, said he was pleased with the acquittal, calling it a "positive step".
"Now, we need to see the release of all the prisoners of conscience in order to create the good [political] weather for the National Dialogue."
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