27 June 2016 – Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab faces up to 13 years in prison after Bahrain’s Public Prosecution referred old expression-related cases to court, on top of his latest charges. Rajab is scheduled for a court hearing on 12 July for “spreading rumours during wartime” and “insulting a statutory body”. The charges were first brought against him in April 2015 and are being pursued in addition to his latest charge of “spreading false news” on social media, which is still under investigation. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy condemns the government’s reprisals against Bahraini civil society and call for the government to immediately release Rajab and drop all charges.
On 13 June, police arrested Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, at his home in Bani Jamra in the north west of Bahrain.
Following his arrest, Nabeel Rajab was held in solitary confinement in the East Riffa Police Station. According to his lawyer, his cell was extremely dirty, with many insects, and contributed to a deterioration in Rajab’s health. Police refused to give him a radio which his family had brought for him. On 26 June, police transferred him to the West Riffa Police Station, where the poor conditions continue.
Also on 26 June, Rajab’s lawyers were informed that old charges related to his free expression have been referred to court, with a first hearing set for 12 July.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “Reopening Bahrain’s top rights activist’s past cases reveals the state’s relentless desire to take the harshet measures against its critics. Bahrain’s allies in Washington and London should send a strong message to Bahrain and impose arms sanctions immediately.”
On 2 April 2015, police detained Rajab and charged him with insulting the Central Jau Prison administration and undermining the war in Yemen, after he spoke out against widespread torture occurring in prison and criticised the humanitarian costs of the war.
Rajab has been prosecuted multiple times since the 2011 Arab Spring. Rajab was arrested repeatedly in 2012, and served two years in prison between 2012 and 2014 on charges of organising unauthorised protests. Following his release in 2014, Rajab conducted an advocacy tour of Europe. In September of that year he visited the UNHRC in Geneva, the European Parliament in Brussels, and European capitals. On his return to Bahrain in October 2014 following his participation in the 27th Session of the UNHRC, police arrested Rajab and charged him with insulting the army in a tweet. He received a six-month sentence and a travel ban. He was released on bail during the appeal of the sentence.
Following his April 2015, Rajab was held in police custody until July 2015, when he received a royal pardon during Ramadan for his six-month sentence. However, his travel ban remained in place, and his charges were not dropped. The threat of prosecution on these charges has significantly hampered Rajab’s ability to work.
The first charge of allegedly “insulting a statutory body” comes under article 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, based on his social media comments about allegations of severe and systematic ill-treatment and torture of detainees in Jau Prison in March 2015. The second charge accuses him of “disseminating false rumours in times of war,” under article 133 of the Penal Code, based on social media posts criticising Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen. Violations of articles 133 and 216 carry maximum sentences of 10 and three years in prison, respectively. Neither of the alleged acts upon which these charges are based were in any way recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law, and both involved the peaceful exercise of internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and to promote and protect human rights.