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Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab’s two-year sentence for talking to the media upheld by appeals court

2017-11-24

On 22 November 2017, a Bahraini appeals court upheld the two-year prison sentence against Nabeel Rajab for talking with various media outlets about human rights issues. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for the immediate release of Rajab, who is GCHR’s Founding Director, as well as President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General. On this sentence alone, he will remain in jail until December 2018, even though he has now been in jail already for over 15 months.

On 10 July 2017, Rajab was sentenced in absentia by the Lower Criminal Court to two years in prison for "disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status," under article 134 of Bahrain’s Penal Code.

Among the so-called “false news” stated during media interviews Rajab gave in 2015 and 2016 are that journalists and human rights groups were banned from the country. GCHR has been prevented from travelling to Bahrain since 2012, in addition to others NGOs such as Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. There is ample documentation of journalists who have been banned including Marc Owen Jones, and Nick Kristoff of the “New York Times”. (See Bahrain Watch data at https://bahrainwatch.org/access/data.php)

Among other statements Rajab made are that the courts lack independence and the government controls them, using them to silence human rights defenders and critics. This claim is born out by the numerous trials against Rajab, who has been in jail since his arrest on 13 June 2016.

The trial was held in violation of international fair standards of trial. For example, at the appeal court hearing on 8 November, the judge refused to allow the defence’s evidence, which included testimonies of high-profile journalists and researchers who had been banned from entering Bahrain.

Rajab missed many of the hearings in the media case because he was in the Ministry of Interior Clinic (Al-Qalaa) since April after he had surgery for bleeding ulcers. He had been in pre-trial detention since his arrest in another case related to tweets about torture in Jaw prison as well as Bahrain’s role in the war in Yemen. The 18th hearing in that case, for which he faces up to 15 years in prison, will be on 31 December 2017. He may face additional prison time for charges related to opinion pieces published in the “New York Times” and “Le Monde”.

Previously, at a hearing on 14 June, Rajab’s lawyers as well as diplomats from various embassies and the European Union walked out of court in protest against the ongoing trials held in absentia.

In addition, Rajab was sentenced because he and BCHR documented the systematic use of torture in Bahrain, which the government denies. Ample documentation exists, including in the report BCHR issued in 2015 with other NGOs, “Inside Jau: Government brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison” (http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/7547). GCHR was among many NGOs which submitted reports to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) in March 2017. The UN CAT subsequently called for Rajab’s release and stated its deep concern “about reports that numerous persons who were deprived of their liberty have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment,” including Rajab, who was held in solitary confinement for over nine months and deprived of proper medical care.

On 25 October, Nabeel Rajab, was transferred from hospital to Jaw prison, to the exact same cell he spent a previous two-year sentence in from 2012 to 2014 on a case related to tweeting about human rights violations.

Rajab was subjected to degrading treatment and as soon as he arrived at Jaw prison, the guards searched him in a humiliating way, and shaved his hair. They have repeatedly searched and raided his small 3m x 3m cell, where he is detained with five inmates, during the night. His books, toiletries and clothes were confiscated after the transfer and he is apparently only allowed one book per month. The family won’t be able to visit him until mid-December.

In addition, normally inmates are kept together who have been convicted of similar crimes. However, Rajab remains isolated from human rights defenders, including GCHR’s other Founding Director and former President of BCHR, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

On 21 November, GCHR was among 15 rights groups which called on 11 states and the European Union to help free Rajab. (See: http://birdbh.org/2017/11/bahrain-15-rights-groups-to-us-uk-and-eu-support-nabeel-rajab-ahead-of-the-appeal-judgement-against-2-year-sentence-for-speaking-to-press/)

GCHR asks supporters to please tweet using the hashtag #FreeNabeel in English or Arabic calling on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally free Nabeel Rajab;
  2. Failing that, protect him from mistreatment in prison, as well as allowing him to mix with the general population including other human rights defenders;
  3. Immediately grant him access to regular family visits according to the law; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Contacts:
Minister of Interior: Shaikh Rashid bin ‘Abdullah Al-Khalifa @moi_Bahrain

Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs: Shaikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa @Khaled_Bin_Ali

Cc. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst @ForstMichel

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye @davidakaye

United Kingdom / Foreign & Commonwealth Office / Human Rights Communications team @FCOHumanRights

United States State Department @StateDept