DUBAI (Reuters) - A U.S. citizen was jailed for 10 years in Bahrain on Tuesday on charges of attempted murder during a disturbance related to Shi‘ite Muslim demands for greater rights, his lawyer said.
The State Department confirmed the jailing of American-born Tagi al-Maidan for 10 years and said his lawyer would appeal the sentence.
Bahrain has seen almost daily protests by members of the Shi‘ite majority since February 2011, when it quelled a Shi‘ite-led uprising demanding that the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty give up power.
Maidan had earlier told Reuters the charges against him were false but that he had made a false confession under torture after his detention in October last year.
The government has denied any abuse in the incident, saying it has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards torture.
“The sentence was 10 years. We will appeal as soon as possible,” his lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, told Reuters. “The sentence was unexpected. There is no conclusive evidence against Tagi.”
A government official declined to comment until questions were emailed.
The State Department said the United States was in touch with Bahraini government about Maidan’s case and was following it closely.
“We continue to consult with officials of the government of Bahrain regarding Mr. al-Maidan’s safety and welfare, his treatment in prison including his medical and nutritional needs, and the Bahraini court system’s judicial proceedings,” the State Department said in a statement.
It said Maidan has repeatedly told a U.S. consular officer he had not been tortured.
“We have been informed by Bahraini authorities from the Ministry of Interior that Mr. Al-Maidan is being seen by a medical doctor regularly; the detention center told the Embassy he was last seen by a doctor on June 23,” the State Department added.
Maidan’s sister Noura attended Tuesday’s court session and said U.S. consular officials were present.
“After the sentence was read, Tagi was calm and he looked down towards the ground,” she said. “He was in a state of shock.”
Maidan was born in the United States to a Bahraini mother and Saudi father and his status as a U.S. national has thrown a spotlight on the complex relationship between Washington and Bahrain.
The Gulf kingdom is a U.S. ally in a volatile region and has long provided a base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet; but at the same time it faces criticism over its record on human rights that the United States champions.
The persistent unrest has placed Bahrain on the front line of a struggle for regional influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia, Bahrain’s close ally, and Shi‘ite Iran, which denies Bahraini accusations of fomenting Shi‘ite protests.
Bahrain’s Shi‘ites have long complained of entrenched discrimination in areas such as employment and public services, despite the denials of the Sunni-led government.
Local and international rights groups say many other Shi‘ite Bahraini youths have been arbitrarily arrested and jailed since 2011 for alleged offences against Bahrain’s security forces. The government denies making any arbitrary arrests.
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington. Editing by William Maclean, Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman