28 December 2016 – A Bahraini court earlier today ordered the provisional release of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on bail. However, the Public Prosecution subsequently ordered his continued detention for seven days, citing further investigation into another case in which Rajab is accused of “spreading false news,” likely to be related to letters published in the New York Times and most recently in Le Monde newspapers. His seventh hearing is set for 23 January 2017. We, the undersigned, condemn Bahrain’s continued judicial harassment of Nabeel Rajab and call for his immediate and unconditional release.
Bahraini authorities arrested Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), on 13 June 2016 on charges of “spreading false news and rumors about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain.” Following his imprisonment, authorities brought an additional two charges against him, including “posting information that could incite others and disrupt civil peace” and “illegally defaming a statutory body” for tweets he posted regarding torture in Jau Prison and the high number of civilian deaths in Yemen from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
In September 2016, following the publication of Rajab’s op-ed in the New York Times, the Bahraini government added an additional charge of publishing “false news and statements and malicious rumors that undermine the prestige of the kingdom.” On 21 December 2016, Bahraini authorities interrogated Rajab following the publication of an opinion piece in his name in the French paper Le Monde.
On 20 December 2016, over 50 NGOs urged the UN to call for Rajab’s release, a call which the UN’s leading expert on free speech endorsed. On 23 December, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling for Rajab’s release. His spokesperson stated, “Criticising the Government should not be the grounds for detention or prosecution and we call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Rajab.“
Rajab has been in pre-trial detention since his arrest in June 2016. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-Custodial Measures state that “pre-trial detention shall be used as a means of last resort in criminal proceedings, with due regard for the investigation of the alleged offence and for the protection of society and the victim.” According to his family, Rajab’s extended pre-trial detention, much of which has been in solitary confinement, has caused a deterioration in his health and stands in clear violation of the UN’s rules.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the Director of Advocacy of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD): “It was too early to absorb the court order of releasing Nabeel Rajab, only to find out that prosecution has held him over other free expression charges. Bahrain plays with his life despite his deteriorating health condition and UN calls for his unconditional release. The latest judicial harassment exposes Bahrain’s mockery of justice. Bahrain’s allies in the EU & UK must speak out before it’s too late”
The US has called for Rajab’s release “full stop,” and the EU’s top human rights official has expressed his “hope” for Nabeel’s release. In September 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used his opening statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council to warn Bahrain: “The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.”
“Nabeel Rajab’s ongoing trial and detention is a reprisal against both him and the entire human rights community in the region,” states Husain Abdulla, the Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). “We were glad to see the State Department’s public call for the release of Nabeel. Nabeel’s case has proven that despite international calls to commit to protecting human rights, the Bahraini authorities remain steadfast in their efforts to silence civil society. The U.S. should suspend arms sales to Bahrain to show the Bahraini authorities that continued human rights violations will not be tolerated.”
We, the undersigned, condemn the continued detention and judicial harassment of Nabeel Rajab, which are forms of reprisal for his work as a human rights defender and his right to free expression. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights