Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab’s five-year sentence for tweets upheld

05 June 2018 – Today, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the five year sentence against leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for tweeting. He was due to be released this month after completing a two-year prison sentence for TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 on restrictions of freedom of the press in Bahrain. While his health is deteriorating, Nabeel Rajab, 53, continues to be denied access to adequate healthcare.

We strongly condemn Nabeel Rajab’s sentencing and urge the authorities to immediately release him, quash the convictions he faces and halt all the proceedings against him. We remain concerned about Nabeel Rajab’s access to adequate healthcare.

We call on the European Union and its Member States to condemn this ruling and to call for Nabeel Rajab’s release. We further request that thy urge Bahraini authorities to end their unabated crackdown on peaceful critics and stress that in the present environment, there is no chance that Bahrain will see a free and fair elections, scheduled for fall 2018.

Please find below further information on his case and detailed recommendations.


Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab is the co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee. Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), is a political prisoner. He is being sentenced for his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities, and in particular his free expression, as protected under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sentenced for tweets

Today, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the five-year sentence against Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH. He was sentenced on 21 February 2018 for “disseminating false rumours in time of war” (Article 133 Bahraini Criminal Code), “insulting a neighbouring country” (Article 215) and “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216) in relation to tweets he posted on alleged torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition air strikes in Yemen.

These charges are based on provisions that criminalise the right to free expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain ratified in 2006.

The charges are also particularly baseless, as objective United Nations observers have all documented the abuses raised in Rajab’s tweets. As exposed by Rajab earlier, in May 2017, the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) noted the “continued numerous and consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment of persons deprived of liberty” in Bahrain. Incriminating tweets includes retweets of Human Rights Watch’s scathing reporting of torture in Jau Prison and tweets criticising Bahraini oversight institutions, including the National Institute for Human Rights and the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, which received in 2017 £1.5m from the United Kingdom as technical assistance. On 4 December 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted in words similar to those of Rajab that “[f]or three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair”.

Nabeel Rajab is now expected to pursue a final appeal before Bahrain’s Court of Cassation.

Unfair trial and arbitrary detention marred by allegations of mistreatment

This shameful verdict follows a trial that was by itself a mockery of justice. Arbitrarily detained since 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab spent more than a year in pre-trial detention. His case has been postponed 20 times and on several occasions the Court violated criminal procedure law by announcing the holding of the trial with only a few days’ notice, and no explanation to Rajab’s lawyers. His lawyers reported they were therefore unable to prepare his defence or call their witnesses to testify in court.

Nabeel Rajab’s detention has been marred by allegations of mistreatment. Nabeel Rajab has spent over 9 months in solitary confinement despite his deteriorating conditions while being denied access to proper care. As a result, Rajab’s health deteriorated and he was hospitalised twice. In May 2017, UN CAT stated it was “deeply concerned” by the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment as well as access to medical care of detained human rights defenders, including Nabeel Rajab. After his transfer to Jaw prison in October 2017, he was forcefully shaved, subjected to body searches and his personal belongings, including his books and clothes, were confiscated.

Ahead of his first appeal hearing in April 2018, Rajab’s family reported that the authorities denied him and other inmates access to water for more than a day and a half, and that they only relented after another detainee fainted from dehydration. His family also reports that Rajab is confined to his cell for 23 hours of every day, and the authorities prevent him from reading books.

Deteriorating health and lack of adequate healthcare

In January 2018, FIDH and local NGOs reported that the prison administration appeared to be purposefully interfering with Rajab’s medical treatment and denounced the lack of independent, adequate, and trusted healthcare provided to him.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch again 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”.

Pending cases and further judicial harassment

Nabeel Rajab has been in and out of prison since 2012 on various charges related to his peaceful activism. He has been banned from leaving Bahrain since November 2014. Detained since 13 June 2016, he was due to be released this month after completing a two-year prison sentence for TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 on restrictions of freedom of the press in Bahrain. The sentence was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 15 January 2018.

The judicial harassment which Nabeel Rajab has suffered for years is set to continue as new accusations have been levelled against him while in detention. He could possibly face at least 14 other cases. Though the details of these cases are as yet unclear, the authorities have already threatened to charge Rajab for articles he published in 2016 while in detention in The New York Times and Le Monde. Furthermore, on 12 September 2017, Nabeel Rajab was presented with a new set of absurd charges in relation to social media posts published on his Twitter and Instagram accounts while he was already detention in January 2017 with no internet access. The cases have yet to be referred to trial and could be activated at any time.

Nabeel Rajab’s ongoing detention illustrates the Government’s relentless efforts to silence any dissenting voice in Bahrain, where scores of critics face detention, intimidation, travel bans and torture. As stated by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2017, “today, the democratic space in the country has essentially been shut down.”

Recommendations

We call on EU policy-makers to press Bahraini authorities to:

  • Release Nabeel Rajab immediately and unconditionally, to quash his convictions and to halt all the proceedings against him, as he is detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Pending his release, ensure that Nabeel Rajab is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, has regular access to his family, lawyers of his choice, and adequate healthcare;
  • Uphold the right to freedom of expression and repeal laws that criminalize the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

As the country prepares itself for parliamentary elections scheduled for fall 2018, the Bahraini authorities should stop the orchestrated crackdown on the rights to freedom expression, association and peaceful assembly. Nabeel Rajab’s sentencing, the bill banning members of dissolved opposition groups to run for elections, the mass revocation of citizenship, and the increased use of death sentencing violate Bahrain’s human rights commitments. Without any major confidence-building measures from Bahraini authorities such as the release of political prisoners, the reopening of opposition societies, and the presence of independent monitors, there is no chance that Bahrain will see a free and fair elections.

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