Bahrain: BAHRAIN: Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab re-arrested on other charges despite court order to temporarily release him
Update: Nabeel Rajab appeared in court briefly on 23 January 2017 for a hearing in his case related to comments and tweets about Jaw prison and Yemen. He remains in jail pending the next hearing on 21 February.
30 December 2016 – Despite a court’s decision to temporarily release Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab in a Twitter case, he was immediately taken into custody on another investigation in relation to televised interviews dating back to 2015 and January 2016. The pending charges are without substance and must be dropped and he must be immediately and unconditionally released, say the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), who mandated a joint trial observation mission.
On 28 December 2016, following an important mobilisation for his release, Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court acceded to an application for 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 (see below).
“The quality of the evidence from the purported computer forensic expert was very poor. It extended no further than a recital of the results of a basic google search,” said the trial observer. “The supposedly neutral expert witness is an employee of the Bahrain government Ministry of interior,” he added.
According to defense submissions made by Rajab’s lawyer during the hearing: “There has never been any sound legal justification to hold Nabeel Rajab in detention in this trial because of a lack of evidence since the very start of this case. The evidence of the Ministry of Interior’s so-called expert before the Court today makes it clearer than ever that at no point in time has there been, nor probably could there have been, any technical evidence to support this prosecution. Hence Nabeel Rajab’s release should be ordered forthwith.” The judge agreed and ordered the temporary release of Rajab until the next hearing scheduled on 23 January 2017 in which the court will allow the Public Prosecution to present new evidence against Nabeel Rajab, after such was requested by the Public Prosecution.
Nabeel Rajab thus continues to face charges of allegedly “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia) and “offending national institutions,” for comments about the alleged torture of inmates in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison in March 2015. He still faces up to 15 years in prison notably for tweets critical 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. A travel ban remains in place as it has been without a break for almost three years.
Then Rajab was taken to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (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 2015 and January 2016, which commenced in mid-June 2016. He will be held for seven days on these charges. It seems that these interviews were with television networks which support the Bahraini opposition: a Bahraini network (based in the United Kingdom), a Lebanese network and an Iranian network.
“It is shocking that the Court has only ordered Nabeel Rajab’s temporary release when there was a finding of no evidence after more than a year of the Twitter case. It is extraordinary that he has been immediately taken back into custody for investigation on charges relating to events that date back to 2015 and January 2016, in an investigation which has been completely dormant since mid-June 2016,” noted the trial observer.
Nabeel Rajab is the co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of GCHR, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH from 2012 to 2016, and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. Comments on his Twitter account about the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen first led to his arrest on April 2, 2015. He remained in custody until he received a royal pardon for health reasons and was thus released on July 13, 2015. Again on 13 June 2016 he was arrested for the televised interviews. During his detention in relation to the televised interviews’ investigation he was referred for trial in the criminal court in relation to the Yemeni war Tweets. He remained in detention on these charges until December 28, 2016.
He has suffered from poor health in prison including heart problems. Most worryingly, he has been held in solitary confinement for the vast majority of that period and denied access to proper care. It is reported that his cell is air conditioned but filthy and infested with cockroaches. On 3 October, 2016, he 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 a dirty cell. Three days after surgery, he was taken back to court.
“The practice of holding a person in solitary confinement for prolonged periods is internationally recognised as a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that may amount to torture. Solitary confinement can have a devastating effect on a prisoner’s mental health.” remarked the trial observer.
Charges regarding the Yemeni Tweets are based on Articles 133 and 160 of Bahrain’s Penal code and provide for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors.” Charges regarding the televised interviews are based on Article 134 of the Penal code, which provides between three months and three years of imprisonment for releasing deliberately “abroad false or malicious news or statements or rumours about domestic conditions or for exercising in any manner whatsoever activities that are harmful to the national interests.”
In September 2016, an additional investigation was initiated against Rajab following the publication on September 05, 2016 of an Op-Ed in “The New York Times” with his by-line, which discussed the conditions of his imprisonment and arrest. The pending charge of “intentionally broadcasting false news and malicious rumours abroad impairing the prestige of the State” carries an additional one-year prison term if he is convicted.
On December 21, 2016, Rajab was interrogated in connection with a letter published in his name in the French newspaper “Le Monde” on December 19, which urged Paris and Berlin to “reassess their relationship with [members of the Gulf Cooperation Council], which actively work against democracy and human rights and fan the flames of violence and extremism.”
Human rights organisations, the UN and government representatives worldwide have all called for Rajab to be released, including through ANRI “Their Freedom is Their Right” Campaign which named him Prisoner of the Month in September, FIDH #RT4Freedom website, and a case history by Front Line Defenders.
ANHRI, Front Line Defenders, GCHR and the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) call on the Government of Bahrain to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him, as well remove his travel ban;
2. Uphold international legal standards including ensuring that technical experts are independent; and
3. End all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists in Bahrain, including travel bans, to which they have been subjected in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
For more information, please contact:
- FIDH: Audrey Couprie / Arthur Manet: + 33 143552518
- OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39
- GCHR: Khalid Ibrahim: +961 70159552