Human rights groups have written to fifty states urging them to publicly call for the release of Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. Rajab, who was arrested in June, faces up to 15 years in prison for comments made on Twitter.
This week, Bahrain brought new charges against Rajab – this time of defaming the state – after he wrote to the New York Times.
The letter from 20 NGOs, including ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, urge countries to “speak out on Bahrain’s continued misuse of the judicial system to harass and silence human rights defenders, through charges that violate freedom of expression.”
Rajab has been in pre-trial detention since 13 June: he has been held largely in solitary confinement and whose health has deteriorated as a result. Since 2011, Rajab has faced multiple prosecutions and prison sentences for his vocal activism. He was placed on a travel ban in 2014 and has been unable to leave the country.
Rajab faces multiple charges of “insulting a statutory body”, “insulting a neighbouring country”, and “disseminating false rumours in time of war”. These charges relate to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on Twitter in 2015 about allegations of torture at Bahrain’s Jau prison, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi intervention in Yemen’s armed conflict.
Rajab’s next court date is 6 October, when he is expected to be sentenced.
The undersigned organisations are writing to you to urge the government to call publicly and privately on the government of Bahrain to release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, immediately and unconditionally and drop the charges against him, as they relate solely to his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.
Nabeel Rajab’s trial is ongoing and if convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison on charges relating to his criticism of Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen which, according to the United Nations, have so far been responsible for the deaths of more than 900 civilians, and included numerous unlawful airstrikes on markets, homes, hospitals and schools. The Bahraini High Criminal Court is scheduled to issue its verdict on 6 October 2016.
Nabeel Rajab’s comments on Twitter about the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen led to his arrest on 2 April 2015. Bahrain’s penal code provides for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors. The authorities released him on 13 July 2015, but the Prosecution did not close the case and ordered his re-arrest on 13 June 2016. Nabeel Rajab is also facing charges of “offending a foreign country,” – Saudi Arabia – and “offending national institutions,” for comments about the alleged torture of inmates in Jau Prison in March 2015.
Nabeel Rajab is the co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and holds advisory positions with Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, and the Gulf Center for Human Rights. Amnesty International consider him to be a prisoner of conscience. His human rights activism and his peaceful criticism of the Bahraini authorities has resulted in his imprisonment on two previous occasions, between May 2012 and May 2014, and between January 2015 and July 2015.
Your government has signed joint statements calling on Bahrain to improve its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in the past and we urge you to now make a public call for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate and unconditional release.
Please find here attached a copy of an open letter written by Nabeel Rajab from his prison cell and published in the New York Times on 4 September 2016. The Bahraini authorities immediately responded to this letter and brought against Nabeel Rajab the additional charge of “undermining the prestige of the state”.
• Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
• Amnesty International
• ARTICLE 19
• Bahrain Center for Human Rights
• Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
• CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
• Clive Stafford Smith OBE, Human Rights Lawyer
• English PEN
• European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
• FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
• Freedom House
• Frontline Defenders
• Gulf Center for Human Rights
• Human Rights First
• Human Rights Watch
• Index on Censorship
• International Service for Human Rights
• PEN International
• Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
• Reporters Without Borders
• World Organisation Against Torture, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders