The UN human rights office has called on Bahrain to "unconditionally and immediately" release rights campaigner Nabeel Rajab, who was sentenced to two years in jail this week.

Rajab, a leading figure in a 2011 pro-democracy uprising that was crushed by the government, was sentenced on Monday, supporters said, for allegedly making "false or malicious" statements about authorities.

"Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals and should not face detention or prosecution for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Criticising the government should not be a crime," UN human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a Geneva news briefing on Friday.

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