Bahrain renews detention of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab
05 Jan 2017

Nabeel Rajab, BCHR – winner of Bindmans Award for Advocacy at the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2012 with then-chair of the Index on Censorship board of trustees Jonathan Dimbleby

Index award-winning human rights activist Nabeel Rajab’s pre-trial detention was renewed for a further 15 days by Bahrain’s Public Prosecution on 5 January according to Nabeel’s lawyer. 

Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, is being prosecuted on multiple charges related to his media activities, was supposed to be freed on bail following a decision by the high criminal court on 28 December 2016.

However, he was instead immediately re-arrested and remanded in custody for seven days, on charges related to media interviews he gave in 2015. Rajab has been in police custody since 13 June, when he was arrested for “spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in Bahrain.”

Since his arrest, prosecutors have instead pursued Rajab with three charges which amount to a total of 15 years in prison if convicted, all relating to his twitter activity. Two of these charges -“spreading rumours in wartime” and “insulting a statutory body” – were originally brought against Rajab in 2015 and relate to his criticism of the humanitarian cost of the war in Yemen and his documentation of torture in Bahrain’s Central Jau Prison, but no prosecution occurred at the time. A third charge of “insulting a neighbouring country” – Saudi Arabia – was added to the case following his June 2016 arrest, and also related to his comments on the Yemen war. Rajab’s next trial date for this case is 23 January.

Rajab also faces separate charges in relation to a letter he wrote to the New York Times in September 2016, and may face additional charges for a December 2016 opinion piece in the French Le Monde.

Rajab has been in pre-trial detention since his arrest in June. His detention, much of it in solitary confinement, has caused a deterioration in his health.

The other charges against Rajab are in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on Twitter in 2015 about the humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi-led war in Yemen and documenting torture in Bahrain’s Jau prison. In all, he stands accused of spreading false information, “criticising” the government and “insulting” Saudi Arabia.

A tweet by Index, which Rajab shared, is also to be used as evidence against him. It reads:

He was first expected to be sentenced in October 2016, but the court has now postponed hearings for a sixth time, raising doubts about the reliability of evidence against him. His next trial date is 23 January 2017.

The US has called for Rajab’s release “full stop”, and the EU’s top human rights official yesterday expressed his “hope” for Rajab’s release. In September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights used his opening statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council to warn Bahrain: “The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.”

On Tuesday 14 December, 23 MPs penned a joint letter to the Foreign Secretary calling on the UK government to demand the “unconditional release” of Nabeel Rajab from prison, and for the charges against him to be dropped. The letter signed by a cross-party group of MPs urges the UK to follow the lead of the US, the European Parliament, and the UN in calling for Bahrain to release Rajab.

On the same day, Index joined the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy at a protest outside Downing Street and delivered a letter to UK Prime Minister Theresa May. The letter stated: “There is nothing bold in silence over clear human rights violations, and we urge you to now make a public call for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate and unconditional release.”

On 23 December, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling for Rajab’s release. His spokesperson stated: “Criticising the Government should not be the grounds for detention or prosecution and we call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Rajab.”

Rajab is the winner of a 2012 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award, in part for his work speaking out against human rights violations committed by the Bahrain’s government following a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests on 14 February 2011.

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