On 6 October 2016, the Bahrain High Criminal Court will hear the case of Nabeel Rajab, leading human rights defender, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH. It is expected that a verdict may be announced. BCHR is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention and prosecution of Rajab, as well as his deteriorating health condition since his arrest.
Rajab, who has spent 114 days in detention since his arrest on 13 June 2016, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted under art. 133 of Bahrain’s penal code for spreading “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours”, an additional two years under art. 215 of the penal code for “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]”, and another three years under article 216 of the penal code for “offending a statutory body” for comments relating to Jau prison in Bahrain. The whole case is based on tweets and retweets.
Additional charges were subsequently brought against Rajab in relation to The New York Times Op-Ed that was published on 5 September 2016 regarding his arrest and current living conditions.
Rajab’s health has seriously deteriorated as a result of the poor incarceration conditions. On 3 October 2016, just three days before the next trial date, Rajab underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder. For most of his detention, Rajab has been held in solitary confinement. Rajab had endured ill-treatment from the prison staff and unsanitary living conditions by living with other detainees infected with serious diseases. On 25 August 2016, Rajab was transferred to the Interior Ministry's clinic headquarters after suffering chest pains and shortness of breath, a condition he had not suffered before detention, according to his family.
Since his arrest, Rajab’s case has attracted the attention of the international community, including government officials, the spokesperson of the US Department of State, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the EU Parliament. On 2 September 2016, 34 NGOs wrote a letter to the King of Bahrain urging the government to “abide by the principles of democracy and human rights and to safeguard freedom of expression in Bahrain (...) by dropping all charges against the human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab and ensure his immediate and unconditional release.” On 14 September 2016, BCHR, along with 21 other prominent NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, wrote to the governments of 50 states urging them to publicly call for the release of Nabeel Rajab, and to "speak out on Bahrain’s continued misuse of the judicial system to harass and silence human rights defenders, through charges that violate freedom of expression." Among those addressed are the governments of France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the latter having previously called for Rajab’s release on 6 September 2016.
Just recently at the 33rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used his opening statement to voice his concern over Bahrain’s imprisonment of human rights defenders, and “how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.” Furthermore, a statement made on behalf of the European Union urged the government of Bahrain to “aim for stability through reforms and inclusive reconciliation,” and expressed concerns over “the arrest and travelling bans for human rights activists, including the re-arrest of Mr. Nabeel Rajab.”
The Government of Bahrain, as a signatory of international human rights conventions, is bound to safeguard the right to exercise freedom of expression without any unjustified and arbitrary constraint. As Rajab’s verdict is quickly approaching, depriving him of his liberty for the mere exercise of a fundamental right goes against Bahrain’s commitment to abide by the international conventions it has signed, and raises concerns over its ability to respect its legal obligations and ensure the security of its citizens.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and all political prisoners detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression;
- Drop all charges against Nabeel Rajab at his trial on 6 October 2016, which are related to his right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech; and
- Abide by international legislation upholding the right to freedom of expression, without any restrictions or arbitrary legal procedures.