13 June 2016 marks the fourth anniversary of the arrest of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for his advocacy of human rights issues, and within days of this anniversary, the Bahraini authorities released him after spending four years in prison implementing a five-year prison sentence for a tweet in which he supported human rights issues.
Rajab, a prominent figure in the 2011 pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in 2018 to five years’ imprisonment for social media posts accusing the authorities of misusing prisons and criticizing Saudi air strikes on Yemen.
Rajab was released on Tuesday 9 June 2020 under the Alternative Penal Code and the conversion of the prison sentence was possible thanks to the new legislation introduced in 2018 that allows Bahraini courts to convert prison sentences into non-custodial sentences.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said: “The release from prison of the prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on 9 June 2020 is a long-overdue but positive development.” Rajab’s lawyer, Muhammad al-Jishi, told Human Rights Watch that the alternative punishment that Rajab would be required to serve is not clear yet.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in which Rajab is the Deputy Secretary-General, also said: “Nabeel’s release is fantastic news – the result of a relentless, collective fight of the human rights movement as a whole.”
In conjunction with this positive step, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights stresses the importance of the release of all rights and political detainees, and the Vice-President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the President of IFEX and the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Mrs. Nedal Al-Salman, urges the authorities in Bahrain to move forward with the release of the rest of activists in prisons. Al-Salman says: “The release of Rajab is the best that happened this year, and in light of the current global situation, we encourage the authorities to continue to release the remaining prisoners.”
Al-Salman renews her demand for the release of the founding director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence for his human rights activities and other prisoners of conscience, alongside Zakia Al-Barbouri, the only woman political detainee in Bahrain’s prisons, and urges the authorities to exercise caution against the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons and begin to release the old prisoners, headed by prisoner of conscience Muhammad Hassan Jawad known as “Parweez”.
It is noteworthy that Nabeel Rajab is the founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and co-founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)and is the Deputy Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and he is also a member of the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Rajab obtained honorary citizenship from the Paris Municipality in France