4 March 2015 – Bahrain’s Court of Appeals convened today over human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s appeal case; unfortunately the court again postponed the decision until 15 March. Rajab’s lawyers requested that a travel ban that has been in place since 2 November be lifted, however the court has declined this request. Nabeel Rajab may also face charges of inciting hatred against the regime in a new case. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHRB) and English PEN condemn the original sentencing of Nabeel Rajab and call on the Government to overturn its decision during the appeal. The aforementioned NGOs condemn the latest allegations brought against Nabeel Rajab as attempts to further intimidate human rights defenders.
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and a member of Human Rights Watch’s advisory board, received a six-month sentence in January for insulting the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence in a tweet, though he remains on bail until the Appeals Court’s verdict. The September 2014 tweet in question read: “many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.” If Rajab’s sentence is upheld on 15 March, he will be imprisoned for his free expression.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, said, “Any criticism of the government is now treated as an insult against the regime. Bahrain’s international allies must bring strong pressure upon Bahrain and send a message that criminalizing free speech is never acceptable.”
The trial and persecution of Nabeel Rajab on charges related to his freedom of expression has been criticised by both State actors and international human rights organisations alike. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described his arrest as “chilling” and called for Bahrain to halt reprisals against human rights defenders. The Special Procedures raised concerns regarding his treatment in their latest joint communications report. In January, over 50 organisations signed a statement calling for all charges against Mr. Rajab to be dropped. Over 100 Members of European Parliament and 21 Members of the UK Parliament have made similar calls in condemning his previous arrest and detention. The United States, Norway, France have called for Bahrain to respect freedom of expression and abide by their commitments under international law.
In an incident unconnected to the current case, Nabeel Rajab may soon face new charges. On 26 February, Rajab received a summons to Hamad Town police station. Rajab presented himself at his local police station on Sunday 1 March. At the station the police questioned Nabeel on a speech he gave at a memorial service for Abdulredha BuHamaid who was killed in Feb 2011 as he was heading to the pearl roundabout. If he is arrested, he fears that he will serve several years in prison. Police accused Rajab of inciting hatred against the regime, based on many allegations, including accusing the Ministry of Interior staff and officials of torturing detainees; of having killed people; discriminating against Shia and calling for the re-opening of the Pearl Roundabout which was destroyed in March 2011. However, police have not officially pressed charges.
Nabeel Rajab stated: “There does not seem to be any tolerance to writing or saying anything against the policy of the government. I do not have an army nor am I part of any political group. What I have is my pen and my tongue and I speak and I write, which they see as a threat.”
Nabeel Rajab’s appeal hearing and latest allegations coincide with the opening of the 28th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Since the 27th Session in September, Bahrain has seen no improvements in its human rights record. BCHR, BIRD and ADHRB find that Bahrain continues to neglect its commitments under the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention against Torture (CAT), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Bahrain has also failed to implement the majority of its 2012 Universal Periodic Review recommendations.
Speaking yesterday at the Human Rights Council, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain Abdullah Abdullatif Abdulla, gave an optimistic view of “the Kingdom’s commitment to implement the legal safeguards enshrined in the constitution and in the various national legislatures … and that the promotion and protection of human rights is indispensable.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, stated: “With these latest allegations against Nabeel, the government is now threatening to punish him for his human rights work. If calling for accountability, equality and justice is incitement of hatred, then Bahrain has clearly not reformed, despite what the government may say.”
Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager at English PEN, stated: “English PEN and our colleagues from PEN centres all over the world remain seriously concerned for Nabeel Rajab. The authorities may think that this additional delay, combined with the fact that his next hearing is due to take place at a weekend, means that the outcome of the hearing will go unnoticed by the international community. That is not the case. We will continue to call for all charges against Nabeel Rajab to be dropped, and for the immediate release of the many other Bahrainis detained or on trial in violation of their right to freedom of expression.”
The Government of Bahrain’s continued reprisals against Nabeel Rajab for his spoken opinion are in violation of international covenants and conventions. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference.” This right is reaffirmed in Article 19 of the ICCPR.
The aforementioned NGOs call on the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and other national and international bodies to:
- Apply pressure on the Government of Bahrain to overturn the conviction against Nabeel Rajab and vacate his sentence;
- Apply pressure on the Government of Bahrain to halt any further judicial harassment of Nabeel Rajab and other human rights defenders in Bahrain;
- Urge the Bahraini government to repeal laws that infringe upon internationally protected rights;
- Urge the Government of Bahrain to ensure that civil society organizations and human rights defenders in Bahrain may conduct their work without fear of retaliation or reprisal.