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Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab to face trial for expressing opinion

Index calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Nabeel Rajab and are deeply concerned that the UK government has done little to press Bahrain to improve its human rights record. Bahrain's insistence on the prosecution of Nabeel Rajab underlines the abysmal state of free expression in that country.

By Index on Censorship / 9 October 2014

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Nabeel Rajab during a protest in London in September (Photo: Milana Knezevic)

Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab will stand trial on 19 October for allegedly insulting Bahraini government institutions on Twitter.

On 1 October, Rajab, president of the 2012 Index Freedom of Expression Award winner Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and director of the Gulf Centre for Human Right (GCHR), was summoned by the cyber crimes unit of the Criminal Investigation Directorate. He is alleged to have “denigrated government institutions” on Twitter, according to the Ministry of Interior. Rajab was released in May after two years in prison on charges including making offensive tweets and taking part in illegal protests.

The arrest came shortly after Rajab’s return to Bahrain following an international trip to raise awareness of human rights violations in his country. He was calling for the release of human rights activists — and father and daughter — Maryam and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Maryam has since been released on bail, her travel ban lifted and trial postponed until 5 November. Abdulhadi continues to serve the life sentence handed down to him in 2011, after playing a prominent role in the country’s pro-democracy protests that year.

Rajab had been scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday afternoon to decide on whether to extend his 7-day pre-trial detention or to release him. But he was summoned to appear before the public prosecutor this morning.

A new complaint was lodged with prosecutors by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in relation to the tweet. The MOD claims the tweet was insulting to the country’s security and military institutions. This morning’s interrogation lasted about 40 minutes, during which Rajab denied the charges and said that he was expressing his views on a public issue that is open for public debate, and it is his right of freedom of expression.

Rajab then met with his lawyer, who said she found out from Twitter that he had been referred to trial before the Lower Criminal Court – Chamber III on 19th October 2014. Rajab is now detained pending trial.

Rajab is now facing the charge of insulting/offending Public bodies based on the complaints filed by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense. This crime is punishable by fine or by imprisonment which could reach up to 3 years based on the provisions of Article 216 read with Articles and 54 and 56 of the Penal Code which provide that:

Article 216: “A person shall be liable for imprisonment or payment of a fine if he offends by any method of expression the National Assembly, or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies.”

Article 54: “Imprisonment means the spending by a convicted person of the term of the prison sentence in one of the prisons facilities intended for this purpose in accordance with the Law. A prison sentences shall not be less than 10 days and shall not be more than 3 years unless the law otherwise provides.”

Article 56: “A penalty involving payment of a fine means obliging a convicted person to pay to the State the amount specified in the judgment. A minimum fine shall be BD1 and the maximum thereof, shall BD1,000 in case of felony and BD500, without prejudice to the limits prescribed by the Law for each offence. In determining the fine, a judge shall give regard to the financial condition of the convicted person. He shall be empowered to exceed the maximum by no more than double the amount if he deems fit.”

In September, Rajab spoke to Index about the human rights situation in Bahrain.

This article was posted on 9 Oct 2014 at indexoncensorship.org.

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