Index on Censorship is deeply concerned by news that Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been hospitalised while in prison. The former Index Freedom of Expression Award-winner and a member of the judging panel at the 2016 Awards was suffering heart problems, his family said, after spending over two weeks in solitary confinement.
Rajab has been in prison since 13 June and subjected to ongoing judicial harassment to silence his human rights work. Index renews calls for his immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped.
The Bahraini Institute for Rights and Democracy has outlined Rajab’s current situation:
Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab has been rushed to Bahrain’s military hospital after suffering unprecedented heart problems after 15 days of solitary confinement. The UN’s top expert on torture, Juan Mendez, has previously said that solitary confinement for long durations “can amount to torture.”
According to his family, Nabeel Rajab is suffering an irregular heartbeat. He is currently at the Coronary Care Unit at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital.
Sumaya Rajab, Nabeel Rajab’s wife: “We raised our extreme worries about the effects isolated detention would have on Nabeel’s health and we were ignored. Nabeel never suffered heart problems before. My husband is a human rights defender and does not deserve this treatment.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “The Government of Bahrain arrested Nabeel Rajab and jeopardised his mental and physical health solely because he expressed his opinions, documented torture in prison and criticised the human cost of the war in Yemen. Bahrain has criminalised compassion and human decency.”
On 13 June, police arrested Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, at his home in Bani Jamra in the north west of Bahrain. Following his arrest, Nabeel Rajab was held in solitary confinement in the East Riffa Police Station. According to his lawyer, his cell was extremely dirty, with many insects, and contributed to a deterioration in Rajab’s health. Police refused to give him a radio which his family had brought for him. On 26 June, police transferred him to the West Riffa Police Station, where the poor conditions continue, including the solitary confinement.
Also on 26 June, Rajab’s lawyers were informed that old charges related to his free expression have been referred to court, with a first hearing set for 12 July for “spreading rumours during wartime” and “insulting a statutory body”. The charges were first brought against him in April 2015 and are being pursued in addition to his latest charge of “spreading false news” on social media, which is still under investigation. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy condemns the government’s reprisals against Bahraini civil society and call for the government to immediately release Rajab and drop all charges.
On 2 April 2015, police detained Rajab and charged him with insulting the Central Jau Prison administration and undermining the war in Yemen, after he spoke out against widespread torture occurring in prison and criticised the humanitarian costs of the war.
Rajab has been prosecuted multiple times since the 2011 Arab Spring. Rajab was arrested repeatedly in 2012, and served two years in prison between 2012 and 2014 on charges of organising unauthorised protests. Following his release in 2014, Rajab conducted an advocacy tour of Europe. In September of that year he visited the UNHRC in Geneva, the European Parliament in Brussels, and European capitals. On his return to Bahrain in October 2014 following his participation in the 27th Session of the UNHRC, police arrested Rajab and charged him with insulting the army in a tweet. He received a six-month sentence and a travel ban. He was released on bail during the appeal of the sentence.
Following his April 2015, Rajab was held in police custody until July 2015, when he received a royal pardon during Ramadan for his six-month sentence. However, his travel ban remained in place, and his charges were not dropped. The threat of prosecution on these charges has significantly hampered Rajab’s ability to work.
The first charge of allegedly “insulting a statutory body” comes under article 216 of Bahrain’s Penal Code, based on his social media comments about allegations of severe and systematic ill-treatment and torture of detainees in Jau Prison in March 2015. The second charge accuses him of “disseminating false rumours in times of war,” under article 133 of the Penal Code, based on social media posts criticising Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen. Violations of articles 133 and 216 carry maximum sentences of 10 and three years in prison, respectively. Neither of the alleged acts upon which these charges are based were in any way recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law, and both involved the peaceful exercise of internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and to promote and protect human rights.