Zainab al-Khawaja, a 32-year-old opposition activist in Bahrain, has torn up photographs of the nation’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on two occasions now, and the defiant acts have resulted in prison time. On Wednesday, coincidentally al-Khawaja’s 32nd birthday, an appeals court in Bahrain upheld her conviction for insulting the king, and slapped her with a one-year prison sentence, a reduction of the initial three-year sentence she’d been given previously. According to her sister, the court also imposed an $8,000 fine on al-Khawaja and she faces another year-and-a-half in prison if she fails to pay it. Al-Khawaja, an influential protester in Bahrain was on trial for having torn up a photo of al-Khalifa — and, defiantly, she tore up another photo of the monarch as she stood before a judge in court. At the time, she served two months in jail and blasted the authorities upon her release. “I believe tearing up pictures of a criminal dictator is a legitimate method of peaceful resistance #Bahrain #KingsTornPics,” she wrote in a post on Twitter in 2012.
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) October 22, 2015
The court’s decision on Wednesday drew sharp criticism from Amnesty International. In a statement, the group said, “It is ludicrous that Zainab al-Khawaja is facing a year in prison simply for tearing up a photo of a head of state.” This is hardly the only case of imprisonment for insult in the region. In Iran, 29-year-old artist Atena Farghadani is serving a 12-year sentence for insulting government officials by depicting them in cartoons as animals. More recently, Farghadani and her lawyer were hit with “illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery” and indecency charges for shaking hands during a visit he made to the artist in prison. In Bahrain, al-Khawaja remains free on bail and faces a slew of other charges. According to her sister, al-Khawaja has a 2-year-old daughter and an 11-month-old son, whom she plans to bring to prison with her.
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