Manama: A Bahraini court refused Monday to free prominent Shiite activist Nabeel Rajab saying he was not eligible for early release from jail where he is serving a two-year sentence, a judicial source said.

Rajab was arrested in the wake of protests in 2011 demanding political reforms and jailed for taking part in “unauthorised” protests.

His sentence was later reduced on appeal to two years from an initial three and according lawyers and right groups he had been eligible for early release late last month.

“The court rejected the request made by a group of lawyers who argue that the activist is eligible for an early release after serving three quarters of his sentence,” said the judicial source.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International had also called for his release saying he would have served three-quarters of his sentence by November 29.

“On Friday 29 November he will have served three-quarters of his two-year sentence and will become legally eligible for release,” Amnesty had said in a statement just days before.

Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, led anti-government protests following protests against the government in March 2011.

In September, Norway’s Rafto Prize for rights defenders was awarded to Rajab and the centre’s founder, Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja who is serving a life sentence in jail for plotting with others to overthrow the monarchy.

Strategically located just across the Gulf from Iran, Bahrain is home base to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and is also a major offshore financial and services centre for its Arab neighbours in the Gulf.