14 June 2017 – Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers and diplomatic observers walked out of the courtroom of his trial-in-absentia today, as his sentencing for speaking to journalists looms. The human rights defender faced two trials today: one in the morning for tweeting, the other this afternoon for speaking to journalists. The morning trial, heard before the Higher Criminal Court, has been postponed to 7 August for a prosecution witness’s presentation. In total, Rajab faces up to 18 years in prison between both trials.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has spoken to Rajab’s lawyers and family. As the defence walked out of the trial, it is unknown if the court moved ahead with hearing the prosecution’s witness or postponed the trial. If the witness was heard in the absence of Rajab and his lawyers, then his sentence is feared to be imminent. BIRD will send updates as soon as they are received.
Rajab’s lawyers state that in accordance with his wishes, they requested the trial be postponed until he can attend and defend himself in person. The President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights did not attend court, having been hospitalised since early April after suffering a severe health deterioration in solitary confinement. He has spent a year in pre-trial detention, with yesterday the anniversary of his arrest.
But Judge Jaber Al-Jazar of the 3rd Lower Criminal Court, an Egyptian national whose tenure in Bahrain ends later this month, appears determined to sentence Rajab before he leaves. Today’s hearing, the third in as many days, was the eleventh in a case in which Rajab is charged with “spreading false news”. He faces three years for telling news outlets that journalists and NGOs are barred from entering Bahrain.
When Judge Al-Jazar refused the postponement request, the defence declared they were withdrawing from court until their client could attend in person and walked out of the court room. Diplomatic observers from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia followed them. The judge and prosecution, which was attempting to present a witness in Rajab’s absence, remained in the courtroom. The lawyers do not yet know the result of today’s hearing.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has spoken to Rajab’s lawyers, who said of this case, “The judge has persistently refused all requests submitted by Nabeel’s lawyers to release him temporarily, i.e., release him on bail, despite the length of his detention period in solitary confinement and despite the indisputable evidence of his fast-deteriorating health condition.” Rajab’s lawyers added, “The judge’s impartiality is under serious doubt.”
On 17 May, Rajab’s latest letter was published on the New York Times. Addressing the US administration and American public, he wrote:“My health has declined. I’m recovering from a painful surgical procedure, yet the authorities have made every part of my detention as difficult as possible. My lawyers have been obstructed from providing me the best possible defense.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “British and American diplomats rightly walked out of this charade of a trial today alongside the defence lawyers, and now that his sentencing appears to be imminent, the UK and US must call for his releaseNabeel’s voice cannot be silenced nor his spirit broken. The past year, in which Bahrain’s authorities have subjected him to degrading treatment for daring to express his thoughts, proves that. Every day he spends in prison shames Bahrain’s rulers and their western allies.”
Rajab, a father of two, has been in police custody since 13 June 2016, largely in solitary confinement. His health has worsened in his year-long detention. In early April, Rajab underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers. He was discharged from hospital back into police custody contrary to medical advice, and was re-admitted into hospital days later. During his detention, Rajab has undergone two operations, suffered two bouts of heart palpitations that require emergency medical care, and has developed other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count and depression, Human Rights Watch reports.
Two Hearings in One Day
Rajab also had a hearing at the Higher Criminal Court. It was the 13th in a long-running trial in which Rajab faces up to 15 years in prison for tweeting. His charges are “spreading rumours in wartime”, “insulting a neighbouring country” and “insulting a statutory body”. The first two relate to Rajab’s criticism on twitter of the Saudi war in Yemen and the humanitarian costs of the war. The latter concerns his exposure of torture in Bahrain’s largest prison.
The trial was attended by representatives of the American, British and German embassies.
The trial was postponed until 7 August, when a prosecution witness will be presented.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern yesterday, 13 June, told Congress: “We should not enable the Bahraini government’s repression. I call for the immediate and unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab and all others jailed for their peaceful political views. I urge the Trump administration to join me.”
Thirty-six members of the European Parliament yesterday urged the European Union to call for Rajab’s release. Fourteen human rights groups, including BIRD and Index on Censorship, on Tuesday wrote to UN member states and observers urging them to call on Bahrain’s authorities for Nabeel Rajab’s release.
In May, the UN’s top anti-torture experts called for Rajab’s “release from detention”. The UN Committee Against Torture’s report on Bahrain found torture to be “widespread” in Bahrain and called for the “release from detention human rights defenders and journalists who are imprisoned and in detention allegedly in retaliation for their work, including” Nabeel Rajab.