5 June 2018 – Today, the Bahrain High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the five year sentence of leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for expressing critical comments on social media. Rajab tweeted his condemnation of the airstrikes in Yemen mounted by the Saudi-led coalition and exposed the widespread torture occurring in Bahrain’s infamous Jau Prison.
In total, Rajab has now been convicted in two separate trials and faces seven years in prison. Today’s verdict marks his fourth hearing in the appeal process with clear concerns of due process violations noted by Rajab’s defence team.
There is still a third stage of appeal available, which will be at the Court of Cassation.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) strongly condemns the Court’s decision to uphold Rajab’s sentencing and urges the Bahraini authorities to quash this unlawful verdict and release him immediately.
BIRD spoke to a member of Nabeel’s family who was present at the court and confirmed the sentence
Commenting, Sayed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, said: “It is clear that the voice of truth is feared by the repressive rulers of Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab was merely exercising his right to freedom of expression and was silenced as a result of this fear.”
He added: “The decision to uphold Nabeel’s sentence represents a missed opportunity by the Bahraini judiciary to address the politically motivated prosecution of human rights defenders by its government. Nabeel is a victim of this corrupt legal system.”
Yesterday the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP tweeted: “I have written to the Foreign Secretary and called on him to urgently mount firm pressure on the Bahraini authorities to secure Nabeel Rajab’s immediate and unconditional release”
Human Rights Watch reported concerns about Rajab’s current health conditions: “Rajab, who suffers from a skin condition, is held in a cramped, dirty, and insect-infested cell at Jaw Prison no bigger than 3-by-3 meters that he shares with five other detainees, his relatives said. Prison authorities keep the men locked in their cell 23 hours a day. Although Rajab needs further surgery for his skin condition, authorities have yet to transfer him to a hospital for the procedure, his relatives said”.
Specifically, Rajab had been convicted for the following:
- Bahraini Penal Code Article 133: Deliberately announcing “in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors…to cause damage to military preparations for defending the State of Bahrain”, which refers to comments on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
- Bahraini Penal Code Article 215: “Insulting a neighbouring country”, which refers to his statements against Saudi Arabia.
- Bahraini Penal Code Article 216: “Insulting national institutions”, referring to the Ministry of Interior, based on comments about unrest in Jau Prison in March 2015.
International Response to Rajab’s Five-year Sentence (21 February 2018)
UK Response: Amid the massive outcry the 5 years sentencing caused internationally, the UK Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, in his statement released on 21 February, failed to condemn the sentencing.
On 20 February 2018, 25 UK Parliamentarians have written to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to urge him to publicly call for the release of Rajab and to express their disappointment with the FCO’s policy towards Bahrain in general.
US Response: the US Department of State expressed “serious concerns” when questioned about today’s verdict and stated “very disappointed” by the Court of Cassation decision to uphold his two-year sentence in a separate case last month. In October 2016, the US State Department had urged the Bahraini government to drop the charges against Rajab and commented: “At today’s hearing, it became clear that the government lacks evidence to support its case, and so once again we reject the charges against Rajab.”
The Trump administration removed Obama-era human rights conditions on arms sales, one of which was the unconditional release of Rajab.
EU response: The European External Action Service responded to the sentencing of Rajab on 21 February 2018 by reiterating its call for his release, including on humanitarian grounds due to Rajab’s deteriorating health condition.
UN Response: In September 2017, the UN condemned the increasing number of Bahraini human rights defenders facing reprisals, naming Rajab as one of the nine affected individuals. The UN Committee Against Torture has also called for Rajab’s release.