Bahrain: Prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab faces ill-treatment


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is deeply concerned that prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab is not being treated according to international standards for prisoners in Bahrain, and supports efforts by his legal team to free him after over three years in prison.

Rajab has been isolated from other human rights defenders in prison. He is kept in a cell in Jaw Prison with nine other prisoners who were convicted for prostitution offences. This is contrary to Rule 11c of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) which says the following:

Rule 11. The different categories of prisoners shall be kept in separate institutions or parts of institutions taking account of their sex, age, criminal record, the legal reason for their detention and the necessities of their treatment. Thus,

 (c) Persons imprisoned for debt and other civil prisoners shall be kept separate from persons imprisoned by reason of a criminal offence.

In the past several months Rajab’s legal team has appealed to the courts to suspend the sentence against him or to convert it to a custodial sentence, or a form of community service, but all their efforts were rejected. However, his legal team has submitted a grievance request to the Appeals Court in which they requested that the Court overturn previous decisions to uphold the sentence. The hearing will take place on 17 September 2019.

Rajab was arrested on 13 June 2016 and is serving seven years in prison on several freedom of expression-related charges that inherently violate his basic human rights. On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld a two-year prison sentence for television interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016, for which he was convicted of “spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in the Kingdom, which undermines the state’s prestige and status.”

In a separate case, on 31 December, the Court of Cassation upheld Rajab’s sentence of five years in prison for “disseminating false rumours in time of war”; “offending a foreign country” – in this case Saudi Arabia; and for “insulting a statutory body.” The charges referred to comments made on Rajab’s Twitter account in March 2015 regarding alleged torture in Jaw prison and criticising the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of GCHR, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee. He recently spent his 55th birthday in prison on 01 September 2019, when supporters around the world wished him happy birthday and once again called on the Bahrain authorities to #FreeNabeel.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally overturn the sentences against Nabeel Rajab and free him, as these sentences and his detention are arbitrary since they only aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;
  2. Provide all necessary medical care, and proper prison conditions according to the Mandela Rules;
  3. Ensure that judicial proceedings in Bahrain adhere to international standards of fair trial; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all journalists, photographers, online activists and 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.