Amnesty International Declares Bahraini Activist Prisoner of Conscience Following Arrest for “Insulting” Tweets

Press Release
May 8, 2012

Amnesty International Declares Bahraini Activist Prisoner of Conscience Following Arrest for “Insulting” Tweets

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150

(New York) – Amnesty International today declared Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab a prisoner of conscience and demanded his immediate release following his arrest for sending "insulting tweets."

Rajab, director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested Saturday on arrival at Bahrain International Airport, following a trip overseas.

“It is utterly ridiculous that the Bahraini government would arrest human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab for sending tweets,” said Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International USA’s Middle East & North Africa advocacy director. “Instead of attempting to silence critics, the Bahraini government needs to start listening to what they have to say about free speech and freedom of expression. Rajab is a prisoner of conscience being held solely for expressing his views. He must be released immediately."

Just before travelling abroad, he was summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecutor after the Ministry of Interior accused him of sending insulting tweets. He did not attend because of his travel.

The activist was brought to the Public Prosecutor's Office on Sunday and interrogated. Rajab's lawyer said the prosecutor referred to eight insulting tweets, and issued a seven-day detention order pending investigation.

Rajab also appeared before a lower criminal court on Sunday in another case against him, in which he is charged with calling for participation in illegal gatherings in which some protesters allegedly acted violently. The trial was adjourned until May 22.

Rajab has denied all charges against him and is currently held in al-Houra police station in Manama.

Repression of government critics has continued in Bahrain despite government pledges to implement reforms recommended in November, when a team of international jurists published a key report on the crackdown on protests.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry – chaired by Egyptian jurist CherifBassiouni – prescribed wide-ranging change that included decriminalizing public gatherings. However, key recommendations have so far not been implemented.

Bahrain's High Criminal Court of Appeal today held its first session in the case of 21 prominent opposition activists, seven of whom are being tried in absentia. However, the trial was adjourned until May 21 because two defendants are currently receiving care in a Bahraini hospital.

One of the men, human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, has been on hunger strike for more than two months in protest against his unfair imprisonment. Amnesty International understands his physical condition is critical.

Amnesty International considers all those currently detained in the case as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.