BREAKING: Nabeel Rajab Sentenced to 2 Years In Absentia for Speaking to Journalists

  • Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was sentenced to 2 years in prison by Sheikh Hamad bin Salman Al Khalifa, a judge in the Lower Criminal Court
  • The human rights defender has spent over a year in pre-trial detention, largely in solitary confinement
  • He was sentenced in absentia, and has not been able to attend court since he was hospitalised in April. Of 14 court hearings, Rajab has been unable to attend the past 9.
  • His lawyers state he was denied basic fair trial guarantees
  • Rajab has another trial on 7 August in relation to his twitter account, for which he faces up to 15 years for criticising the war in Yemen and torture in Bahrain

10 July 2017 – Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to 2 years for speaking to journalists today by Bahrain’s Lower Criminal Court. The President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights did not attend court, being hospitalised since April in the Minister of Interior hospital after his health deteriorated. He remains in hospital. He has been in pre-trial detention for over a year, largely in solitary confinement. Rajab also faces trial on 7 August in a separate case related to his tweeting against the Saudi coalition war in Yemen, which Bahrain is part of, and torture in Bahraini prisons, for which he faces up to 15 years in prison. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy condemns today’s sentencing.

Today’s judgement in the Lower Criminal Court was overseen by Sheikh Hamad bin Salman Al Khalifa, a member of the royal family and judge who has previously sat on unfair trials including the sentencing of photojournalist and torture victim Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, who was sentenced under the anti-terrorism law in 2015 to ten years imprisonment. In the week ahead of today’s sentencing, Rajab was barred from phone calls and family visits.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “It’s not only Nabeel Rajab: This outrageous sentence against someone speaking the truth exhibits the brutality of the Bahraini government and its heinous crimes and that of its kangaroo court. This shames Bahrain’s rulers and happens because the Al Khalifa feel there will be no consequences for their brutal abuses.”

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, comments: “The Bahraini monarchy perceives it can act with impunity and is attempting to silence every critic. Its actions are clearly a gauntlet being thrown down before the US, UK, and other allies. If Bahraini authorities meet with no protest, their abuses will only become more extreme. The question now is how other countries will react.”

The political trials against Rajab began when he was arrested in June 2016 and charged with “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state.” The charges relate to interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 and relate solely to his freedom of expression. Nabeel Rajab’s prosecution violates the principles of a fair trial, enshrined in article 20 of Bahrain’s constitution and article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Rajab’s lawyers state: “Being in hospital is a valid excuse under Bahraini law and his trial should be postponed till he can attend the court sessions, however; the judge decides to proceed with the trial and decided to issue the judgement on 10 July 2017 without hearing Nabeel defense in total violation of [Bahraini law].”

Rajab did not attend the trial, having been hospitalised since April after a serious health deterioration resulting from the authorities’ denial of adequate medical care and unhygienic detention conditions. Despite this, the Lower Criminal Court has insisted on holding court sessions during his sickness. Rajab’s lawyers have boycotted the trial since June in protest of the court’s decision to hold hearings when he has been too sick to attend.

Today’s hearing was the fourteenth hearing since the trial began. To date, the court has held nine hearings during Rajab’s hospitalization which he has been unable to attend.

In a previous hearing on 14 June, Rajab’s lawyers walked out of court in protest of unfair trial procedures. Their walkout was joined by diplomatic observers. 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 over a year in pre-trial detention: 13 June was the anniversary of his arrest. When the judge refused the postponement request, the defence declared their withdrawal from court until their client could attend in person.

Last week, the US State Department said: “We continue to be very concerned about [the trial of Nabeel Rajab]. We continue to be concerned about freedom of expression. …There was a closure of a newspaper, a news outlet not too long ago. That, freedom of speech, human rights remains a concern of ours, and we continue to bring it up with the Bahrainis at the highest level.” The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in April that they have “raised concerns over the case of Nabeel Rajab” at “senior levels” of the Bahraini government. In June, 36 members of the European Parliament urged the European Union to call for Rajab’s release. The EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights stated ahead of today’s sentencing that he “wish[es] for [Rajab’s] prompt release.”

In May, the UN Committee Against Torture called for Rajab’s release.

Rajab’s Statements

BIRD has seen the three media interviews which Nabeel Rajab has been prosecuted for. In one January 2015 interview the prosecute raised against him, Rajab said: “There are political prisoners who claim to be subject to abuse and torture, there are continuous violations, there are organizations that are not granted entry, and there are widespread violations that need to be addressed.”

Indeed, torture continues to be reported over two years later, as recently as the case of woman’s rights defender Ebtisam Al-Sayegh, who was arrested and ill-treated last week and remains in detention, and was previously tortured in May. Earlier this year, Bahrain denied entry to a Human Rights Watch who had travelled to attend the FIFA world congress in Manama. Over the past two months, police killed five unlawfully protesters according to UN experts; the only independent newspaper was shut down; and the last major political opposition party was dissolved.

The prosecution accused Rajab of “purposely spread[ing] false news and information that is tendentious and is set to demean the prestige of the kingdom and weaken the trust vested in it. His intervention has accused the government of applying policies of oppression and intimidation while arresting the opposition instead of arresting those responsible for crimes of murder and torture; thus, applying a policy of impunity. During his interventions, he also purposely incited hatred towards the system, ridiculed it, and has accused the government of being sectarian, one that oppresses the opposition, violates international agreements, and is set out to oppress freedom of expression and opinion. He has also insulted the judiciary.”

Thee defence lawyers state that Rajab was denied his right to cross-examine the prosecution witness and challenge the prosecution’s charges. The defence was not given the opportunity to present their own witnesses and evidence.

Other Trials and Charges

Rajab faces another long-running trial related to his twitter activity, in which he faces up to 15 years in prison for “insulting a statutory body”, “spreading false news” and “insulting a neighbourly country”. The charges relate to tweets critical of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which Bahrain is a participant in, and his exposure of torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison. In June, the trial was postponed to 7 August.

Rajab faces a separate charge of “spreading false news” in relation to a New York Times article he wrote, “Letter from a Bahraini Jail”. The case has not gone to trial.

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