A Bahraini Court’s decision on August 8, 2017 to postpone issuing its verdict in the case of Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), demonstrates once again the inability of the Bahraini judicial system to uphold his rights to a fair trial. The ruling related to a series of anti-war and anti-torture tweets was postponed again until September 11, 2017. In this case, the prosecution has failed to provide details on the factual or legal basis for the charges and has repeatedly delayed proceedings undermining Nabeel Rajab's right to a fair trial.
“International allies of Bahrain must hold accountable the Bahraini government who is eradicating all forms of peaceful dissent in the country. They should condemn the prosecution of our President who is the latest victim of Bahrain’s crackdown on all moderate voices and request his immediate and unconditional release” said BCHR today. “The serious criminal charges which include allegations of propagating false news are totally baseless and should be dropped”.
The Bahraini Court has suspended its ruling against him in a case related to charges on tweets and re-tweets concerning the war in Yemen and torture allegations against prisoners in Jau.
Rajab was charged of tweeting about the war in Yemen and the Bahraini authorities alleged that he is guilty of breaking Article 133. The article states that “a punishment of imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years” can be inflicted upon an individual who during wartime deliberately propagates “false or malicious news.” The second tweet was related to allegations of torture taking place in Jau prison after a prison riot in March 2015. This tweet was found to be defamatory to one of Bahrain’s organizing bodies (the Ministry of Interior), an act which can be penalized in conformity with Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code. There is no publicly available evidence that BCHR President engaged in any form of speech or comment that could be qualified as defamation.
Rajab is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in the Gulf and the Head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, he is also Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Committee.
“Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals, and should not face detention or prosecution for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, referring to Nabeel Rajab’s case in July 2017.
The UN is not the only institution that has protested Rajab’s unlawful detention, mistreatment and sentencing. Germany’s Federal Foreign Office condemned Rajab’s sentencing and called for Bahrain to respect its international obligations to protect human rights. The European Parliament, the United States and Norway have also released statements condemning the rights defender’s sentencing, additionally asking the Bahraini authorities to release Rajab on humanitarian grounds. Ten human rights NGOs, including BCHR, signed an open letter asking nine embassies to be present at Rajab’s trial and to ensure that his rights were adequately protected.
Rajab’s sentencing and detention period have been marred by allegations of mistreatment and the resulting impunity. For instance, prior to Rajab’s sentencing, he was in pretrial detention for more than a year, his trials having been postponed for a total of 26 times. Nine and a half months of Rajab’s detention period were spent in solitary confinement.
Likewise, at times Rajab has been denied access to his lawyer and family, including on 3 July before the first sentencing, and in the weeks following the sentencing.