The sentencing of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, in his absence, to two years in prison for TV interviews is the latest shocking display of zero tolerance for freedom of expression by the Bahraini authorities, Amnesty International said today.
“Imprisoning Nabeel Rajab simply for sharing his opinion is a flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Nabeel Rajab should be commended for shedding light on allegations of serious human rights abuses; instead, Bahrain’s government and judiciary have once again tightened their chokehold on freedom of expression and branded him a criminal. No one should be jailed for speaking out about human rights.”
Nabeel Rajab was jailed in June 2016 over tweets he made that alleged torture in a Bahraini prison, and criticized the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.
On 28 December 2016 a Bahraini court ordered his release, but the authorities refused to release him and instead he was immediately re-arrested and taken into custody in relation to TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. His trial on charges of publishing and disseminating rumours and false news relating to the internal situation in the country began on 23 January.
Nabeel Rajab was held in solitary confinement for over nine months of his detention until his transfer to the Ministry of Interior Hospital in al-Qalaa having suffered from complications following surgery in early April. Prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement violates the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. Despite medical reports issued by the hospital confirming that he could not attend his hearings, the court continued the trial. On 14 June Nabeel Rajab’s defence lawyers and diplomats from the USA, UK and Australia walked out of court when the judge rejected the lawyers’ request to postpone the trial until Nabeel Rajab is fit to attend.
Nabeel Rajab has been in and out of prison since 2012 on charges related to his peaceful human rights activism, and has been banned from leaving Bahrain since November 2014.
Today the High Criminal Court in Manama found him guilty of “publishing and disseminating rumours and false news”.
“Nabeel Rajab has been persecuted for years for speaking out against human rights abuses. We reiterate our call on Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release him, and we are urging them to end their crackdown on freedom of expression and ensure the right of everyone in Bahrain to peacefully express themselves,” said Salil Shetty.
Nabeel Rajab is also on trial on charges of “spreading false rumours in time of war”, “insulting public authorities [the Ministry of Interior]” and “insulting a foreign country”, in relation to comments he posted and retweeted on Twitter relating to the war in Yemen and allegations of torture in Jaw prison. This trial began on 12 July 2016 and was postponed numerous times. If convicted, Nabeel Rajab faces 15 years in prison. His next hearing is scheduled for 7 August.
On 21 December, following a piece published a day earlier and written in his name in the French newspaper Le Monde, in which he calls on France and Germany to reassess their relationship with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Nabeel Rajab was charged with “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of Bahrain and the brotherly countries of the GCC, and an attempt to endanger their relations.”
Nabeel Rajab was also charged with “undermining the prestige of the state” in relation to another piece published in his name in the New York Times in September 2016, in which he describes the conditions of his detention. It is not known whether he will face trial on either charge.
Nabeel Rajab’s imprisonment is one of a long list of repressive measures taken by Bahraini authorities since May 2016. In September, Amnesty International, alongside 21 other NGOs, wrote to the governments of 50 states calling on them to press for Nabeel Rajab’s release.