31 December 2018 – Hours before the new year kicked in, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, its court of last resort, denied prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s appeal and upheld his five-year prison sentence. Because of this decision, now Nabeel has exhausted all legal procedures to reverse and eliminate all charges against him and will remain in prison until 2023.
Nabeel Rajab has been a tireless advocate for human rights in Bahrain and in the Gulf region throughout many years, founding and establishing the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Because of his continuous work, in 2015 he received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. An annual award given to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe.
He was arrested on the 13th of June 2016 for tweets and re-tweets critical of the Bahraini government, its policies and the war in Yemen as well as for television interviews he had participated. He has remained detained in Jau Prison since then. Jau Prison is the country’s primary long-term male detention facility and is known for its abuses on detainees and its poor living standards. As other prisoners, Nabeel was held largely in solitary confinement during his first nine months of detention. This clearly violates the UN rules concerning pre-trial imprisonment. Moreover, he was also subjected to humiliating treatment, inhumane living conditions and his personal belongings such as books and toiletries have repeatedly been confiscated. Due to this situation, Nabeel’s health conditions aggravated and despite this, prison officials have repeatedly defined him adequate medical care.
Even while Nabeel appealed the five-year verdict, he was in detention, serving a two-year prison sentence on charges of “publishing and disseminating rumours and false news” that stemmed from television interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 against human rights violations in Bahrain and the ongoing restrictions on freedom of the press. He was arrested in June 2016, was held in pre-trial detention ahead of this trial and was sentenced to prison on the 10th of July 2017. On 16 January 2018, the Court of Cassation rejected Nabeel’s appeal in the case, confirming his two-year prison sentence. After a month, on the 21st of February 2018, the Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced Nabeel to five years in prison on politically-motivated charges of “spreading false rumours in time of war,” “insulting public authorities,” and “insulting a foreign country.” Nabeel appealed the verdict and had his first appeals hearing on 8 May 2018. However, the court adjourned the hearing until 20 May. On 20 May, the kingdom’s High Court of Appeal adjourned his hearing until 5 June. On 5 June, the High Court of Appeal upheld his five-year sentence.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) strongly condemns the court’s decision and the sentence, and calls upon the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel and ensure that the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press is respected. This case shows the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain since the 2011 pro-democracy movement. It clearly demonstrates the pattern of abuse and harassment from the government against human rights defenders, activists and whoever criticizes the country’s policies and decision-makers.