Bahrain Sentences 3 for Questioning Islamic Teachings

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) —

Prosecutors in the Arab Gulf nation of Bahrain on Thursday have handed down yearlong prison sentences to three people for debating Islamic theology in a series of blog posts and online videos.

The three are part of a local cultural society called Tajdeed, Arabic for Renewal, that says it questions traditional Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence but not the religion itself. Critics, including prominent Shiite clerics in the kingdom, have accused the group of attacking the foundations of Islam and have waged a campaign of incitement against them.

The case has divided the majority Shiite community in Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

The public prosecutor’s office said the three defendants were guilty of “infringing on the foundations of the Islamic faith” and insulting its prophets, in part by dismissing purported miracles as popular myths.

It did not name the defendants, but activists have identified them as Jalal al-Qassab and Redha Rajab, who were summoned to court, and Mohammed Rajab, who lives in Britain. They are free on bail pending appeal.

Prosecutors specializing in cybercrimes referred the three defendants to a criminal court last month, accusing them of “deliberately undermining the basics of the Islamic religion on which all Muslims and sects agree,” the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported.

Human Rights Watch has called on authorities to drop the charges.

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