Today, 5 June 2018, Bahrain’s High Court of Appeal ruled to uphold the five-year prison sentence against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab on charges that clearly violate his right to free expression. Rajab is currently serving a total of seven years in prison in reprisal for his activism. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) condemns the government’s continued retaliation against Rajab for his peaceful human rights work and calls for the government to vacate his sentences and to facilitate his immediate and unconditional release.
Rajab was originally sentenced to five-years in prison on 21 February 2018 on politically motivated charges of “spreading false rumors in time of war,” “insulting public authorities,” and “insulting a foreign country.” The accusations stemmed solely from tweets and retweets in which he called attention to torture in Bahrain’s prisons and criticized the war in Yemen. This sentence added to the two-year term he received on 10 July 2017 on charges of “publishing and disseminating rumors and false news” related to past television interviews wherein he discussed Bahrain’s restrictions on freedom of the press. Rajab also appealed that decision, but the ruling was twice upheld, with a final 15 January 2018 confirmation from the Court of Cassation. He was originally arrested ahead of these trials on 13 June 2016.
In addition to the two- and five-year sentences, ADHRB has learned that Rajab could also face further prison time for up to 14 other outstanding cases the government reportedly maintains against him. Though the details of these cases are as yet unclear, the authorities have already threatened to charge Rajab with additional counts of “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumors that undermine the prestige of the state” in relation to letters published in The New York Times and Le Monde. Furthermore, on 12 September 2017, the government charged him with “spreading false news,” “inciting hatred against the regime,” and “inciting non-compliance with the law” over social media posts published on his Twitter and Instagram accounts while he was already in police custody in January 2017. These cases could be sent to trial at any time.
“The court’s decision to uphold Nabeel’s five-year sentence on charges of free expression clearly showcases the appalling state of human rights and civil society participation in Bahrain today,” says Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “It is completely unacceptable that the Bahraini government continues to target human rights defenders, and faces no repercussions. The international community must join together to press Bahrain to release Nabeel Rajab and all other prisoners of conscience.”
The Bahraini government’s imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab is a blatant violation of free expression and clear act of reprisal against a human rights defender. ADHRB calls on the Government of Bahrain to release Rajab at once and drop all extant cases against him. Until he is free, we further call on the international community to take concrete measures to pressure the Bahraini authorities for Rajab’s release, including through conditioning arms sales, security assistance and other tangible points of leverage.