15 January 2018 – Nabeel Rajab’s sentence to 2 years in prison for communicating with journalists was upheld by a Bahraini Court of Cassation this morning. Today’s decision ended the legal remedy of a long-running, unfair trial.
Rajab will serve his sentence at the notorious Jau Prison until December 2018. He is currently isolated from other political prisoners, and instead held with inmates convicted on terrorism-related charges of association to ISIS.
Today, Nabeel Rajab had a separate hearing at the High Criminal Court regarding a second case, where he faces up to an addition of 15 years in prison for his comments on Twitter. The Court reserves his next hearing on 21 February 2018 for sentencing.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemns Rajab’s imprisonment, due to this sentencing being a reprisal against the work he is committed to carrying out as a human rights defender, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Rajab was sentenced in absentia on 10 July 2017 based on charges of “publishing and broadcasting fake news that undermines the prestige of the state” under article 134 of Bahrain’s Penal Code. This is in relation to statements he has made in the media:
- International Journalists and researchers are barred from entering the country
- The courts lack independence and are controlled by the government. Use judiciary as a tool to crush dissidents.
- Foreign mercenaries are employed in the security forces to repress citizens
- Torture is systematic in Bahrain.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, BIRD: “This is a slap in the face of free expression and tragically illustrates the corruption of the justice system. Bahrain’s rulers are fearful of the truth and today’s verdict shames their repressive record. The Bahraini rulers have been emboldened by the unconditional support of their western allies in the US and UK.”
The Bahraini courts have failed to provide Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) a fair trial at every stage. He has been prosecuted for expressing his thoughts, which is protected under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. During his hospitalisation earlier this year, multiple court hearings were held in Rajab’s absence, including his sentencing in July.
Rajab had a separate hearing on 15 January 2018 in a concurrent case, related to his tweets about torture in Bahrain’s notorious Jau Prison and the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen; for which he faces up to 15 additional years in prison.
Rajab has also been charged with “spreading false news” in relation to a letter he wrote to the New York Times in September 2016. A new set of charges were brought against Rajab in September 2017 in relation to social media posts made in January 2017, when he was already in detention and without internet access.
The human rights defender was transferred to Jau Prison on 25 October 2017, having been hospitalised over the previous six months after a serious deterioration in health, mainly due to the authorities’ denial of adequate medical care and unhygienic conditions of detention.
Rajab was subjected to humiliating treatment upon arrival at the prison, when guards immediately searched him in a degrading manner and shaved his hair by force. Prison authorities have singled him out by confiscating his books, toiletries and clothes, as well as raiding his cell at night. Rajab is isolated from other prisoners convicted for speech-related crimes. Prison officers had threatened to punish him if he speaks with other inmates.
One of Mr Rajab’s outstanding charges is in regards to speaking about the degrading treatment in Jau Prison. The evidence gathered by the BCHR and Mr Rajab himself which proved torture was taking place within the prison was exposed in a joint-NGO report ‘Inside Jau’ in 2015. Human Rights Watch also reported on the same incidents of torture.
The upholding of the sentence means Rajab will be imprisoned at least until December 2018, by which time he will have spent 30 months in prison. This itself reflects the unfair Court procedures: Rajab was first arrested in June 2016 and charged with spreading fake news in media interviews. However, the prosecution did not begin investigating his charges until six months into his detention, in December 2016.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has avoided expressing concern over Nabeel Rajab’s sentencing in its answers to four parliamentary questions since July. In their latest statement, they stated: “We continue to closely monitor the case of Nabeel Rajab and have frequently raised it with the Bahraini Government at the highest levels.”
25 British MPs have condemned the sentence.
Following Rajab’s sentencing on 10 July, the United States, European Union and Norway all called for Rajab’s release. Germany deplored his sentence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office called for his unconditional release.
In September 2017, the UN condemned the increasing number of Bahraini human rights defenders facing reprisals, naming nine affected individuals, Rajab being among them. The UN Committee Against Torture has called for Rajab’s release.