On 31 October 2016, a Bahraini court will hold another hearing for the case of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. After a series of postponed trials, the court may issue a verdict on Rajab’s case, potentially sentencing him to fifteen years in prison. Rajab faces charges that are solely related to his exercise of freedom of expression online, with the authorities having initially arrested him for posting tweets criticizing the war in Yemen and highlighting the use of torture in Bahrain’s prison system. By the time of his 31 October court date, Rajab will have been subjected to poor prison conditions for 140 days.
Since Bahraini authorities arrested Rajab on 13 June 2016, a number of international human rights organizations have called for his immediate release. As the co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), co-founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), and member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Rajab has worked to improve the human rights of people in the Gulf region for more than a decade. On 27 October 2016, many of Rajab’s colleagues released a compilation video to call on the Government of Bahrain to free Rajab and respect the human rights of all Bahrainis.
In addition to Rajab’s colleagues in the human rights community who have called for his release, international government officials have done so as well. In the past week, six members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have made public calls for the release of Nabeel Rajab. British MEP Julie Ward, Spanish MEP Javier Nart, Spanish MEP Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker, Italian MEP Ignazio Corrao, and Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes have all released videos in solidarity with Rajab and the people of Bahrain. Efforts by the MEPs leading up to Rajab’s trial seek to put pressure on Bahraini officials and to show them that the international community will be watching on 31 October. Those who work to promote human rights and democracy around the world expect the Government of Bahrain to uphold their obligations under international law. Bahraini authorities must release Nabeel Rajab, drop all charges against him, and ensure the release of all political prisoners who have been arrested and detained for exercising their right to free expression.