Bahrain: Bahrain: Human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Ghada Jamsheer remain imprisoned despite poor health, other rights defenders banned from travel


Two prominent human rights defenders remain imprisoned in Bahrain, despite poor health, and further at risk by unsanitary prison conditions. Both Ghada Jamsheer and Nabeel Rajab have been jailed for their tweets and human rights activities in violation of the right to freedom of expression and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls for them to be freed immediately and unconditionally.

Rajab is the co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), founding director of GCHR, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. He was arrested in June on several charges and has suffered from poor health in prison including irregular heartbeats, an ulcer and problems with his gallbladder.

Rajab’s trial is ongoing and, if convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison on charges relating to his criticism of Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen, which according to the United Nations, have so far been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. The Bahraini High Criminal Court is scheduled to issue its verdict in Rajab’s trial on 31 October, after the previous hearing on 6 October 2016 was postponed.

On 3 October, Rajab was taken to the Bahraini Defense Forces hospital for surgery to remove his gallbladder. Despite the risks of moving him back to jail, Rajab was taken from the hospital the day after his surgery and placed in solitary confinement in jail. He has often been held in solitary confinement and denied access to proper care, and health and cleaning supplies. He then appeared in court on 6 October.

Rajab’s comments on Twitter about the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen first led to his arrest on 2 April 2015. Bahrain’s penal code provides for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors.” The authorities pardoned and released him for health reasons from this initial detention on 13 July 2015, but the Prosecution did not close the case and ordered his re-arrest on 13 June 2016 on separate charges. Nabeel Rajab is now facing new charges of allegedly “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia). In addition, he was charged with “offending national institutions,” for comments about the alleged torture of inmates in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison in March 2015. See:

Then in September, additional charges were brought against Rajab following the publication on 5 September 2016 of an Op-Ed in “The New York Times” with his by-line, which discussed the conditions of his imprisonment and arrest.

Women’s rights defender, writer and blogger Ghada Jamsheer remains in jail after she was detained on 15 August 2016 upon arrival from London where she was receiving medical treatment. Jamsheer, President of the Women's Petition Committee (WPC), is being held in connection with multiple sentences imposed on her for exercising her right to free expression on twitter after she complained of corruption at King Hamad Hospital. She is currently serving a three-month sentence in this case, after being convicted of defamation of the hospital management, but believes she may have to serve consecutive sentences for several related cases amounting to at least ten months for the twitter charges.

On 22 June 2016, Jamsheer, was sentenced on appeal to one year in prison by the Second High Criminal Court for four cases related to her tweets about corruption at King Hamad hospital. Jamsheer has 12 charges against her related to this case and has already been sentenced to seven months in prison on three other related charges, in addition to one year in prison (suspended) on trumped up charges of allegedly “assaulting a police officer” while in custody. She was also fined 10,000 dinars (approx. USD$26,500) for defamation of the management of the hospital, headed by a member of the ruling family. Jamsheer was first arrested on 15 September 2014, and jailed for three months. See:

Jamsheer is very sick and can’t carry out her medical treatment in prison, where it is very cold and many women are sick, putting her at increased risk. She has a chronic condition that causes pain and it’s very difficult for her to move without her medicine, yet the prison guards make her clean her cell and wash her clothes without help.

In a call from prison, she said, “Here in the jail, they don’t treat me necessarily very well because I’m a human rights defender. Please do something to help me. I want to get out.” Jamsheer has requested to plead her case before a judge to carry out community service work instead of remaining in prison. She will next be in court on 7 November to ask for her freedom.

You can help call for her freedom by signing a petition in support of Jamsheer and women human rights defenders in Bahrain here:

Reprisals continue as more human rights defenders have been prevented from leaving the country, adding to the dozens who have not been able to travel since June 2016. On 07 October 2016, a travel ban was imposed on human rights defenders Abdulnabi Al-Ekry, a member of the Bahrain Observatory for Human Rights, human rights lawyer Mohamed Al-Tajer and Ashraf Al-Moussawi, head of the Bahrain Transparency Society.

GCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to: 

  1. Immediately and unconditionally free Ghada Jamsheer and Nabeel Rajab and overturn the charges against them;
  2. Ensure all prisoners, including Ghada Jamsheer, Nabeel Rajab and other human rights defenders, have access to proper medical treatment and clean conditions while in prison, and that they are not held in solitary confinement; and
  3. End all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists, including travel bans, in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.