31 October 2016 – Today, the High Criminal Court postponed the trial of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) to 15 December 2016. We, the undersigned NGOs, condemn the arbitrary and baseless detention of Rajab and call for his immediate and unconditional release.
The High Criminal Court postponed the trial of Rajab for the fourth time in a row since the commencement of the trial on 11 July 2016. The reason for the postponement is to hire an expert from the Cyber Crime Unit to verify that the Twitter handle in question is managed by him. The reopening of his case throws a light on the lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.
Rajab is being prosecuted in relation to tweets and retweets about torture in Jau Prison and the human rights violations in the war on Yemen. The prosecution of Rajab is based on Articles 133, 215, and 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code over charges of “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours,” “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia), and “offending a statutory body” – for which he may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. All these charges relate to Rajab’s exercise of his free expression.
In September, Bahrain’s prosecution brought new charges against him for “undermining the prestige of the state” after the New York Times published his opinion piece, Letter from a Bahraini Jail. This charge could carry an additional year. In his letter, Rajab criticized his country for being one “that punishes its people for thinking, that prevents its citizens from exercising their basic rights.”
Rajab has spent 140 days in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016. We are deeply concerned about Rajab still being detained considering his deteriorating health condition. Rajab’s family is believed that the unhygienic condition in his cell is possibly the reason for worsening of his health condition.
In the week before Rajab’s hearing on 31 October, members of the European Parliament have voiced their concerns over the case of Rajab and the overall human rights situation in Bahrain. MEPs Beatriz Becerra, Julie Ward, Javier Nart, Mark Demesmaeker, Ignazio Corrao and Ana Gomes called for the release of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.
Rajab’s case has attracted the attention of several other prominent figures, including government officials, the spokesperson of the US Department of State, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the EU Parliament. His case has been discussed at the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and in a letter from 34 human rights organizations calling on the King of Bahrain to release Rajab.
Friday last week the US Department of State repeated its calls for Rajab’s immediate release and rejected all charges against him.
We believe that the prosecution of Rajab for the peaceful exercise goes against Bahrain’s international human rights commitment, and raises concerns over its willingness to safeguard the rights of its citizens.
The undersigned NGOs call on the Bahraini government to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and all political prisoners detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
- Drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab, which are related to his right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech; and
- Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression, without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures;
- Provide compensation for his arbitrary imprisonment.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights