“Nabeel Rajab’s release from prison is very good news for him, his family and his supporters all around the world. Nabeel Rajab will continue to serve out the remainder of his prison term at home, although he should never have been sentenced in the first place. Indeed, it is the duty of every state to protect human rights defenders against any arbitrary action as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of expression.
It is essential to contain the COVID-19 pandemic through implementing preventive measures in places of detention, but it is also equally important to take steps on a non-discriminatory basis and to echo the call made by the United Nations by releasing all those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. This includes a number of peaceful human rights activists and political prisoners whose lives remain at risk in Bahrain’s overcrowded prisons.”
Maria Arena is the Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
Hannah Neumann is the Chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula.
Mr Rajab, an outspoken critic of the Bahraini government and a leading figure in the 2011 pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison over social media posts accusing the authorities of prison abuse and criticising Saudi Arabia’s air bombardment in Yemen. On August 13, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) published an opinion regarding the legality of Nabeel Rajab’s detention. The WGAD concluded that the detention was not only arbitrary, as it resulted from his exercise of his right to free speech, but also discriminatory, based on his political opinions and status as a human rights defender. The WGAD therefore stated that Mr Rajab’s detention violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain ratified in 2006. The WGAD requested the Bahraini government to “release Mr. Rajab immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.”
The conversion of the prison sentence was possible thanks to new legislation introduced in 2018 that allows Bahrain’s courts to convert jail terms into non-custodial sentences.