3 February 2017 – 21 International, Bahraini NGOs and rights campaigners individuals have written to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson today calling on the UK government to call for the release of jailed human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.
The letter, whose signatories include Amnesty International, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, PEN International and Index on Censorship states: “As Foreign Secretary you have re-committed your Office to counter the shrinking of civil society space and promote the work of human rights defenders. We therefore urge you to give effect to this commitment by calling for the release of Nabeel Rajab.”
“The UK’s significant historical, economic, security and political ties with Bahrain incur a responsibility to acknowledge and criticise negative human rights developments within the country. The UK’s voice is strongly heard in Bahrain, and we urge you to act publicly and promptly in support of Nabeel Rajab’s human rights work and call for his release.”
Commenting, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy:
“The UK is fully aware of the scale of human rights abuses in Bahrain, having spent millions training Bahrain’s police and judiciary to little effect. The UK knows Nabeel Rajab faces an abhorrent sentence simply for speaking. This letter is a reminder to Boris Johnson of his government’s ongoing failure to call for Nabeel Rajab’s release.”
Commenting, Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager, English PEN said:
“It is not enough for the UK government to simply monitor the ongoing persecution of Nabeel Rajab and other activists and writers at risk in Bahrain. The Foreign Secretary and his colleagues need to take urgent action and to publicly urge their allies in Bahrain to release our imprisoned colleagues immediately and unconditionally.”
Nabeel Rajab: Jailed for his Free Expression
Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, faces up to 17 years in prison on charges related to his free speech, and has three cases against him.
Rajab, who has been in detention, largely in solitary confinement, since his arrest on 13 June 2016, currently faces two separate trials related to his right to free speech. In the first of these, the eighth court hearing of which was on 23 January 2017, Rajab is charged with “spreading rumours in wartime”, “insulting a neighbouring country” (Saudi Arabia) and “insulting a statutory body”. The first two charges relate to Nabeel Rajab’s tweets published in March 2015 alleging torture in Jaw prison and criticising the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The verdict in his trial has been postponed several times suggesting that this is part of a deliberate strategy to harass him. His next hearing on this case is due to take place on 21 February.
On 28 December, in a hearing on the Twitter case, the high criminal court authorised Rajab’s release from detention on bail; he was then immediately rearrested for investigation into charges of “spreading false news” in media interviews. According to the prosecution, Rajab’s charges relate to comments given to media outlets in which he stated that foreign journalists and international NGOs cannot enter Bahrain and that the imprisonment of opposition actors was political and illegal. However, multiple international NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, and Reporters Without Borders, as well as academics and journalists, have been denied access since 2011. Amnesty International has also not been granted access to Bahrain since January 2015. Meanwhile, political and unlawful imprisonments are common in Bahrain: Bahrain was the subject of six UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rulings in 2014. Amnesty International has also documented many prisoners of conscience in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab’s next hearing on this case is scheduled for 7 February.
In addition, Nabeel Rajab has a third charge sheet of “spreading false news” after he wrote a letter to the New York Times in September 2016.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy received a on 23 January letter from the FCO, after writing to the Prime Minister on 14 December regarding Nabeel Rajab’s trial. The government states it is following Rajab’s case “closely” and states “The UK is working closely with the Government of Bahrain to provide extensive reform assistance focused on strengthening human rights and the rule of law.”