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Bahrain: Continued judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Nabeel Rajab


New information
BHR 006 / 0812 / OBS 048.31
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
October 27, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), FIDH Deputy Secretary General and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been one of the country’s most vocal human rights defenders, denouncing human rights violations within the country’s Jaw prison, and denouncing Bahrain’s participation in bombings of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

According to the information received, on October 26, 2017, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was transferred from the Ministry of Interior’s “Qaala” police clinic to Jaw Prison. It has been reported that Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being held in solitary confinement and was subjected by prison guards to degrading treatment, including humiliating and degrading body searches, forcibly shaving his hair, arbitrarily raiding his cell at night and confiscating his personal items.

Since the begging of his detention on June 13, 2016, Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been held under particularly harsh detention condition, including solitary confinement, and is regularly prevented from accessing his lawyers.

Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being harassed by Bahraini authorities in two different court cases.

On October 26, 2017, an appeal hearing in the “Television interviews case” was postponed to November 7, 2017. On July 10, 2017, the Manama’s Lower Criminal Court handed down a two years’ prison sentence against Mr. Nabeel Rajab under charges of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” in relation to television interviews he participated to. Mr. Nabeel Rajab faces additional charges in at least two other cases related to articles published in foreign newspapers about Bahrain’s human rights record (see background information).

In the so-called “Twitter case”, Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being accused of “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216 of the Penal Code), “disseminating false rumours in time of war” (Article 133) and “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” (Article 215), which carries up to 15 years in prison. Those charges are related to tweets he posted denouncing the torture of detainees in the Kingdom’s Jaw Prison, where he is now being detained, and the human rights violations perpetrated by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen. The case which suffers endless postponements since July 2016 will next be heard on November 19, 2017.

The Observatory expresses its outmost concerns over reports of ill-treatment of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, whose health has severely degraded since the beginning of his detention. The Observatory thus urges the Bahraini authorities to guarantee Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s physical and psychological integrity.

In its concluding observations on Bahrain published on May 12, 2017, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) drew attention to the fact that “excessive use of solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or, depending on the circumstances, even torture (...)” [1]. The UN CAT added that it was “deeply concerned” by the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders, including Mr. Nabeel Rajab [2].

The Observatory denounces the continued arbitrary detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, which seems to be yet another evidence of a long-standing pattern of harassment against him to sanction his legitimate human rights activity.

The Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nabeel Rajab, to put an end to any act of harassment against him and, in the meantime, to ensure that all judicial proceedings against him are carried out in full compliance with the right to due process, the right to a fair trial and the right to be presumed innocent, as protected under international law.

Background information:

On July 9, 2012, Mr. Rajab was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for several tweets posted on his twitter account. On August 23, 2012, he was acquitted by the Higher Appeal Court.

On August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Rajab to three years of imprisonment for his participation in peaceful gatherings. In December 2012, the Appeals Court reduced the sentence to two years. He was released in May 2014 after serving his term.

On October 1, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was arrested by the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for “insulting a public institution” via Tweeter (Article 216). The case related to a tweet he published in September 2014, in which he criticised the military institutions for generating extremist ideologies (the “terrorism tweet” case). On November 2, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court ordered his release but barred him from leaving the country.

On January 20, 2015, the Third Lower Criminal Court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment for “insulting public institutions and the army” (Article 216).

In 2015, two other criminal charges were brought against Mr. Rajab. On February 26, 2015, he was summoned for investigations for charges of “inciting hatred towards the regime” in relation to a speech he made in February 2011 during a funeral (the “funeral speech case”). To date, the police investigation is ongoing.

In addition, on April 2, 2015, Mr. Rajab was arrested, sent to the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security, and placed in detention in solitary confinement in Isa Town Police Station. On April 3, 2015, he was interrogated by the CID regarding two new charges brought against him under criminal case No. 2015/38288. The first charge was “insulting a statutory body”, referring to the Ministry of Interior in relation to tweets he posted denouncing the torture of detainees at Jaw Prison (the “Jaw torture tweets” case). The second charge was “disseminating false rumours in time of war”, in relation to tweets he published about the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen (the “Yemen tweets” case).

On May 14, 2015, the Bahrain Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the six-month prison sentence (the “terrorism tweet” case).

On July 13, 2015, the King of Bahrain Hamad Ben Issa Al-Khalifa ordered through Royal Pardon the release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab for health reasons. Mr. Rajab had already served three of the six months’ jail sentence. Moreover, on the same date, the Public Prosecution imposed a travel ban against Mr. Rajab in relation to the Jaw torture and Yemen tweets cases.

In the morning of June 13, 2016, police forces reportedly led by the Cybercrime Unit arrested Mr. Nabeel Rajab, after raiding his house and seizing a number of electronic devices. In the afternoon, he was able to contact his wife by phone, and reported being detained at East Riffa police station.

On June 14, Public Prosecution remanded him in custody on accusations of “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermine the prestige of the State” (Article 134 [3]).

On June 28, 2016, he was transferred from police custody to the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Hospital due to unprecedented heart problems. On the same day, he was examined by a doctor, and was transferred back to West Riffa police station.

On July 12, during the hearing, the judge dismissed the request for release filed by Mr. Rajab’s lawyers and the hearing was postponed to August 2.

On August 2, 2016, the High Criminal Court decided to postpone the trial to September 5 without justification.

On September 4, Mr. Rajab was summoned and questioned by CID officials. He was denied access to a lawyer on this occasion.

On September 5, 2016, the Public Prosecution announced that additional charges had been brought against Mr. Nabeel Rajab, for deliberately disseminating “false news and information and tendentious rumours that undermine the kingdom’s prestige and stature”, in relation to a letter published in the New York Times on September 4, 2016, [4] describing his judicial harassment and arbitrary detention. If convicted, this could add one year to his final sentence. In total, he now faces up to 16 years in prison.

On October 3, 2016, Mr. Nabeel Rajab underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder as a consequence of his poor detention conditions.

On October 6, 2016, the High Criminal Court decided after a five-minute hearing to postpone the trial to October 31, without providing any justification. Before the hearing, Mr. Rajab’s lawyers asked the Court a copy of his medical reports after the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecution failed to provide them, in clear violation of Mr. Rajab’s right to be informed of his own health condition.

Once more on October 31, 2016, the Fourth High Criminal Court postponed the trial until December 15 in order to obtain a technical expert from the Cyber-Crime Unit to determine who runs Rajab’s twitter account. Rajab arrived at the court right before the hearing, and was taken out immediately after the Judge made his pronouncements, while Rajab’s lawyers were still making applications.

On December 15, 2016, after a fifteen-minute hearing during which Mr. Nabeel Rajab was not allowed to speak, the Fourth High Criminal Court postponed the verdict until December 28, 2016 and refused to release him.

On December 21, 2016, the Cybercrime Unit of the Ministry of Interior took Mr. Nabeel Rajab out of custody for interrogation following the publication of a letter quoting him in French newspaper Le Monde [5] on December 19, 2016. The Cybercrime Unit accused Mr. Rajab of using the article to “spread false information and tendentious rumours insulting Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States and harming their relations”. Investigations on those publications were still underway.

On December 28, 2016, Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court acceded to an application for Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s temporary release following a failure to give any basis or any sufficient evidence of a link between him and the Twitter account with respect to the Yemeni and Jaw prison tweets.

Then Mr. Rajab was taken to the CID for temporary release. However, he was re-arrested later on the same day and referred to the Public Prosecution in relation to an investigation into televised interviews dating from 2014, which commenced in mid-June 2016.

On December 28, 2016, the Public Prosecution ordered the pre-trial detention for seven days of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, pending investigation into televised interviews dating back to 2014. These interviews with television networks Lua Lua Channel, Al Etijah TV and Al-Alam News Network were related to the human rights situation in Bahrain. In this case, Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being prosecuted on charge of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” (Article 134 of the Penal Code) [6], which carries up to three years in prison.

On January 5, 2017, the Public Prosecution renewed Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s pre-trial detention for a further 15 days, pending investigation.

On April 5, 2017, Mr. Nabeel Rajab underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers at Manama’s military hospital. His family was denied the right to visit him while in hospital. Only two days after the surgery, Mr. Rajab was sent back to West Riffa police station where he has remained in solitary confinement most of the time.

On April 8, 2017, Mr. Rajab was rushed to the police hospital in an ambulance because of an infected wound that followed the operation. Since that date, Mr. Nabeel Rajab is recovering from his medical condition and remains in Qaala clinic, which is a division of the Ministry of Interior [7].

On July 10, 2017, the Manama’s Lower Criminal Court handed down a two years’ prison sentence against Mr. Nabeel Rajab under charges of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” (Article 134 of the Penal Code) in the so called “Television interviews case”, in relation to television interviews in which Mr. Nabeel Rajab was talking about Bahrain’s human rights record.

On August 8, 2017, a Bahraini Court held its 15th hearing in the so-called “Twitter case” against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and decided again to postpone the hearing until September 11, 2017, despite a request by Mr. Rajab’s lawyers to hold the next hearing sooner. Furthermore, the court stated that by then, new judges will be seating in the court.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to:

The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and that of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

ii. Release Mr. Nabeel Rajab immediately and unconditionally, as his detention is arbitrary and its conditions amount to ill-treatment and are endangering his life;

iii. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, Article 6 (c), 9, 11 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

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