21 February 2017 – This morning, the Government of Bahrain again postponed the two trials of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. Bahrain courts have brought two cases against Rajab for exercising his internationally-sanctioned rights to free expression. He has been subjected to imprisonment and ill-treatment since June 2016. We, the undersigned NGOs, strongly urge the Government of Bahrain to immediately release Nabeel Rajab from prison and drop all charges against him.
During his first trial this morning, judges in the High Criminal Court again postponed the case against Rajab. This case is in relation to tweets and retweets criticizing the war in Yemen and documenting torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison. At this morning’s hearing for the twitter charges, a Criminal Investigations Department officer testified that Rajab is the owner of his twitter account and brought video footage of Rajab “admitting” he had authored his own tweets. The court will reconvene tomorrow, 22 February 2017, for its tenth session to watch the video footage. Rajab faces up to 15 years in prison for this case.
During the trial this afternoon for the second case against Rajab, Bahrain’s lower criminal court postponed the trial to 7 March 2017. The charges brought against Rajab in this trial are in relation to television interviews he gave in 2015 and early 2016. For this case, Rajab could face up to three years in prison. For both cases combined, Rajab could face a total of 18 years in prison.
In September 2016, Rajab wrote a letter from prison that the New York Times published. Following the publication, the Public Prosecution’s Office interrogated Rajab for the letter. The case for the New York Times has not yet been formally brought against Rajab. Also in December 2016, Rajab wrote a second letter published by France’s Le Monde, which Rajab was questioned about.
Bahrain has come under considerable international scrutiny for the prosecution of Rajab. News broke yesterday about recent F-16 sales to Bahrain from the United States. The Washington Post revealed that the Obama administration secretly held Nabeel Rajab’s release as a condition for the sale of F-16 jets to the Government of Bahrain. The Trump administration is expected to do away with the previous government’s policies and approve arms sales to Bahrain with no strings attached. Senator Ron Wyden’s office on 17 February 2017 sent a letter to the US Administration asking them to reconsider any decisions to sale the Bahraini government weapons. Sen. Wyden has requested the US Administration to continue investigating the human rights situation in Bahrain.
Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution in which they urged the EU and its member states “to intervene with the Bahraini Government in order to appeal for the release of Nabeel Rajab and of all those held solely on the basis of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.” The resolution also condemned recent execution of torture victims in Bahrain and Kuwait.
This morning’s news of Rajab’s trial postponement is the latest example of the increased, targeted judicial harassment against him. The Government of Bahrain has subjected Rajab to ongoing detention, some of it in solitary confinement, for more than eight months since his arrest. During this time, courts have postponed one case nine times. In December 2016, Bahraini authorities announced Rajab’s release on bail. Then, authorities subsequently announced the second case against Rajab for the tv interviews and immediately rearrested him.
The undersigned NGOs view the ongoing detention and postponement of trials against Rajab as judicial harassment. Police officials have subjected Rajab to ill-treatment and solitary confinement while in prison. We, the undersigned, call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab from prison and drop all charges against him.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
European Centre for Rights and Democracy (ECDHR)
**Update: Rajab’s trial for tweets that courts postponed for 22 February 2017 was postponed again. The new trial date for the case against Rajab related to tweets has been postponed to 22 March 2017. The 22 February 2017 trial was a closed hearing and judges reportedly barred family from attending.