Prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to a further five years in prison on 21 February 2018, during a verdict that an observer called unusual, as the lawyer was not allowed to speak during the brief proceedings. Rajab was on trial at the High Criminal Court of Bahrain for tweeting about the war in Yemen and poor conditions in Jaw Prison. Rajab has already been sentenced to two years in prison in a separate case for media interviews, and has been imprisoned since his arrest on 13 June 2016.
Rajab is one of the founders and currently President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), as well as a Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board.
An international observer attended the court hearing on behalf of GCHR, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Front Line Defenders, English PEN, and BCHR. The observer reported that the court proceedings were very short and Rajab’s lawyer Jalila Al-Sayed was not allowed to speak, which contravene international standards of due process. A full report on the hearing will be published in future.
The verdict was also attended by representatives of the United States, British, and German Embassies, who have been regularly observing Rajab’s trials.
Rajab, who was in court, looked at his lawyer when the verdict was announced and flashed the sign for perseverance (Sumood). Local sources had predicted that Rajab would be sentenced to five years in prison, but with elections coming up in October 2018 there were hopes that his sentence would be lower or the case would be dropped. He has the right to appeal but has indicated that he will not do so.
Rajab was first arrested in this case almost three years ago. On 02 April 2015, security forces surrounded Rajab’s home and arrested him in relation a series of tweets and an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post. The first charge was for “offending national institutions” in connection to his documentation of mistreatment and torture in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison in March 2015. (See the report: Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central Prison). The second charge of “spreading rumors during wartime” related to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of the conflict. He was also charged under the Bahrain penal code with “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia).
Rajab was facing up to 15 years in prison for this case (10 for the Yemen tweets and five for the Jaw prison tweets). 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 rumours.”
On 15 January 2018, the Court of Cassation upheld the two-year prison sentence against Rajab in the media case on charges of “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status.” On this sentence alone, he will remain in jail until December 2018, even though he has now been in jail already since June 2016.
Rajab has been poorly treated in prison and had surgery at the Bahrain Defence Forces (BDF) hospital. Following one surgery in April 2017, the wounds became infected and he was returned to hospital. He has a number of health conditions, including heart problems and high blood
On 25 October 2017, Rajab was transferred from hospital to Jaw prison. He is being held in a segregated wing of Jaw Prison in the same cell as five convicted high-ranking Da’esh (ISIS) members, all of them from the Bin Ali clan. They are serving sentences from 15 years to life sentences. Three years ago, Rajab was charged over tweets criticising Bahrain for turning a blind eye on the rise of ISIS. In his tweets he referred indirectly to the same Bin Ali clan.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), GCHR, Front Line Defenders, English PEN and BCHR call on the authorities 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 access to his family and lawyers;
3. Ensure that judicial proceedings in Bahrain adhere to international standards of fair trial; and
4. Guarantee that human rights defenders may work freely without persecution in Bahrain.