UPDATE: 3 July 2017 – Following today’s hearing, which Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers continued to boycott, the court moved set Rajab’s sentencing to Monday 10 July.
2 July 2017 – Nabeel Rajab’s trial for speaking to journalists was postponed to tomorrow, 3 July, as his lawyers continue to their boycott of the court. Today’s hearing was the twelfth in a case in which the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights is charged with “spreading false news”. He faces three years for telling news outlets that journalists and NGOs are barred from entering Bahrain. In all, he faces up to 18 years in prison in total across two trials related to his free speech. Representatives of embassies were present at the hearing.
Bahrain’s judicial recess began yesterday, however, the trial of a few defendants continues through the break. Rajab’s political trial is one of them. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy has spoken to Rajab’s family and lawyers, who boycotted today’s hearing and state that a new judge oversaw the trial today. Previous court hearings were overseen by Judge Jaber Al-Jazar, an Egyptian national, of the 3rd Lower Criminal Court. The lawyers have contested the court’s attempts to sentence Rajab as quickly as possible.
Rajab did not attend court, having been hospitalised since early April after suffering a severe health deterioration in solitary confinement. Despite his doctor’s recommendation that he stay at hospital, the court has routinely scheduled hearings without regard to Rajab’s health. Rajab, who was arrested on 13 June 2016, has spent over a year in pre-trial detention.
In an audio message obtained by Vice News in June, Rajab said: “Although I’m still not feeling well physically, and in pain, as I’ve been in solitary confinement for a whole year, I assure you that I have very high morale because I believe in my cause and believe in the goal that we’re struggling for.”
In the last hearing on 14 June, Rajab’s lawyers walked out of court in protest of unfair trial procedures. Their walkout was joined by diplomatic observers from the US, UK and Australia. 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. He has spent a year in pre-trial detention: 13 June was the anniversary of his arrest. When Judge Al-Jazar refused the postponement request, the defence declared their withdrawal from court until their client could attend in person.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “This mockery of a trial’s postponement for the thirteenth time exposes the thin skin of the Al Khalifa government. Silencing Nabeel Rajab and human rights advocates is a tactic of authoritarianism employed to hide their crimes.”
Nabeel Rajab’s charges relate solely to his speech. He has not been the only one in the cross fire, as the Government of Bahrain has pursued a total clampdown on speech, shutting down only independent newspaper Al Wasat in June and dissolving the last major opposition party in May. On 23 May, police unlawfully killed five protesters in the deadliest assault on protesters since protests began in 2011.
Bahrain also joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in demanding that neighbour Qatar shuts down its Al Jazeera network. The demand, along with twelve others, is part of an ultimatum which expires tonight. The emirate could face further sanctions if, as expected, they reject the ultimatum.
Rajab is other faces court in a separate trial 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.
On 14 June, the trial was postponed for the 14th time to 7 August.
Rajab also faces charges of “spreading false news” in relation to his letter from a Bahraini jail published in the New York Times. This third case has not gone to trial.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern told Congress on 13 June: “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 in June urged the European Union to call for Rajab’s release. Fourteen human rights groups, including BIRD and Index on Censorship, 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”.
A group of UN experts in June called on Bahrain to end its “persecution of human rights defenders, journalists and anyone else with divergent opinions.”