31 December 2018 – Today, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, its court of last resort, denied prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab’s appeal and upheld his five-year prison sentence for tweets and re-tweets critical of the Bahraini government and its policies. With the decision, Nabeel has exhausted all legal remedies to reverse the charges, and will remain in prison until 2023. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly condemns the court’s decision and the sentence, and calls upon the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel.
On 21 February 2018, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced Nabeel to five years in prison on politically-motivated charges of “spreading false rumors in time of war,” “insulting public authorities,” and “insulting a foreign country.” These charges, which violate his right to free expression, stem solely from tweets and re-tweets critical of torture in Bahraini prisons and the war in Yemen. Nabeel appealed the verdict and had his first appeals hearing on 8 May 2018. However, the court adjourned the hearing until 20 May. On 20 May, the kingdom’s High Court of Appeal adjourned his hearing until 5 June. On 5 June, the High Court of Appeal upheld his five-year sentence.
Even while Nabeel appealed the five-year verdict, he was in detention, serving a two-year prison sentence on charges of “publishing and disseminating rumors and false news” that stemmed from television interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. In those interviews, he discussed restrictions on freedom of the press in Bahrain. Officials had arrested him on 13 June 2016 and held him in pre-trial detention ahead of this trial, although they did not sentence him to prison until 10 July 2017. On 16 January 2018, the Court of Cassation rejected Nabeel’s appeal in the case, confirming his two-year prison sentence.
Nabeel has been in Bahrain’s Jau Prison since his initial arrest ahead of his trial for television interviews on 13 June 2016. Jau Prison is the kindom’s primary long-term male detention center and it is notorious for the abuse inmates face and for its poor living standards and conditions. While in prison, Nabeel has been exposed to harsh treatment and inhumane living conditions. He was held largely in solitary confinement for the first nine months of his detention. As a result of his treatment, his health has suffered a significant decline. Despite this, prison officials have denied him adequate medical care, including refusing to provide treatment for chronic gallstones.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB: “The Court of Cassation’s rejection of Nabeel’s appeal is deeply disappointing and demonstrates that Bahrain’s judiciary is set up to rubber-stamp the government’s criminalization of dissent and criticism. This time, Nabeel’s only apparent crime is criticizing torture and a war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians and turned the Arab world’s poorest state into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The international community must publicly condemn the sentencing of one of Bahrain’s most high profile human rights defenders to five years in prison on bogus charges, or risk further empowering the Bahraini government to act with impunity in the face of international standards.”
With this decision and the rejection of Nabeel’s final appeal, he will remain incarcerated in Jau Prison for five more years, where his health is at risk of further deteriorating and he is at risk of harassment and mistreatment. We strongly condemn the Court of Cassation’s final decision and we urge the Bahraini government to void the sentence and to immediately and unconditionally release him. We also urge the international community to condemn the decision and to strongly urge the Bahraini authorities to release Nabeel and to drop all charges against him.