9 June 2020 – Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been released from Jau Prison today under alternative sentencing legislation after serving almost four years on two convictions for criticising Bahrain’s government on social media and in television interviews.
The decision to release Nabeel was announced unexpectedly by his lawyer and family members just days before the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment on 13 June 2016. Following his arrest, Rajab was convicted to seven years imprisonment in two separate trials, both of which violated Rajab’s right to freedom of expression and opinion. Nabeel was due to be released in 2023.
Nabeel’s trial and conviction were met with international outrage, with the United Nations, politicians and human rights NGOs condemning the verdict as a brazen attack on freedom of expression. In August 2018, 127 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, echoed the call for Nabeel’s immediate release and compensation after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention once again declared his imprisonment to be not only arbitrary, but also discriminatory.
Nabeel was sentenced to five years imprisonment on 21 February 2018 for posts on Twitter exposing the use of torture in Bahraini prisons and condemning the Bahraini government’s participation in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. His conviction on charges of “spreading rumours in wartime” and “insulting a neighbouring country”, was an early example of the Bahraini government’s ongoing efforts to police citizens’ use of social media and crack down on voices critical of the government. Although he appealed the verdict, his final appeal was rejected on 31 December 2018.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director at Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), commented: “Bahrain’s prisons remain crowded with peaceful human rights defenders and opposition leaders, whose lives are threatened by the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19. Nabeel Rajab’s release must be extended to all political leaders and opposition activists who remain unjustly incarcerated in Bahrain, many of whom are eldery and suffer chronic preexisting health conditions putting them at great risk from COVID-19.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, commented: “Nabeel Rajab’s release just days before the fourth anniversary of his arrest is long overdue, marking the first high-profile release since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. However, Nabeel should not have spent a second in prison, his only ‘crime’ being criticism of Bahrain’s government on Twitter.”