Following the Bahraini government’s abrupt decision to advance Nabeel Rajab’s most recent hearing from 31 December 2017 to 5 December 2017, the court has now adjourned the case to Thursday, 7 December. One of Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defenders, Rajab faces up to 15 years in prison for charges stemming from tweets in which he documented torture in Bahrain and criticized the war in Yemen. His defense team has objected to the erratic rescheduling of Rajab’s trial, noting that the government gave them only two days informal notice that the 31 December hearing had been moved forward, preventing them from adequately preparing. The court proceeded, however, setting 7 December for the next trial date. As recorded by the Bahrain Institute for Rights in Democracy (BIRD), this next session will be the 20th hearing so far in Rajab’s twitter case, which has been repeatedly postponed over the more than a year in order for the authorities to ostensibly gather more evidence. The repeated postponements also fit a government pattern of arbitrarily extending or interfering in the trial procedures of human rights defenders and political activists as a yet another aspect of the reprisal. Rajab was unable to attend the 5 December hearing due to his ongoing health problems.
In addition to the twitter case, Rajab was sentenced to a two-year prison term for media interviews about the kingdom’s restrictions on free press in a hearing on 10 July 2017, after another series of postponements. The court refused to review the material submitted by Rajab’s defense team disputing the charge that Rajab had spread “false news” by, among other things, stating that the Government of Bahrain bans reporters from entering the country. On 22 November, an appeals court confirmed the two-year sentence.
The authorities have also threatened to prosecute Rajab over editorials that have been published in the New York Times and Le Monde, and another set of comments posted to his social media accounts while he was in detention.
He has been in government custody since 13 June 2016, often held in unhygienic conditions and extended periods of solitary confinement. Following his hospitalization due to the poor treatment and his deteriorating health, Rajab was transferred to Jau Prison to serve his two-year sentence. He appears to be kept away from other prisoners of conscience, and the guards have subjected him to degrading treatment, including forcibly shaving his hair, arbitrarily raiding his cell at night, and confiscating his personal items.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of this clear act of reprisal against Nabeel Rajab for his human rights work and peaceful criticism. We call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately release him and all other detainees held solely for exercising their right to free expression.