Groups urge Bahrain to release prominent human rights defender

HM Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Office of HM the King
P.O. Box 555, Rifa’a Palace
Kingdom of Bahrain

Cc. The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street, London SW1A2AH

Cc. The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520

Cc. Federica Mogherini
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Cc. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
2 September 2016

Urgent Appeal for the Release of Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab

Your Excellency,

In light of recent alarming events in Bahrain, the undersigned NGOs express our deepest concerns about the ongoing detention of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab based on his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. We urge the government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release Rajab.

On 13 June 2016, the authorities arrested Rajab, who serves as President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the regional Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary-General of FIDH, and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division. Rajab’s arrest is one in a series of repressive actions to severely restrict the work of human rights defenders and civil society members in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

In the wake of an unprecedented crackdown, we believe the detention of Rajab to be an act of reprisal for his work to promote fundamental human rights in Bahrain, as well as a means to restrict Rajab’s freedom of expression and speech. He is charged for tweets and re-tweets about allegations of torture in Bahrain’s Jau Prison, which were investigated by many local and international NGOs, and about the widely reported and criticised human rights violations during the war in Yemen. In total, Rajab could serve up to 15 years in prison for his statements via Twitter.

Rajab faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of spreading “false or malicious news, statements, or rumours” under article 133 of Bahrain’s penal code; a further two years imprisonment if convicted under article 215 of the penal code for “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” for tweets related to the Saudi-led war in Yemen and an additional three-year sentence if convicted of “offending a statutory body” under article 216 of the penal code for comments relating to Jau prison in Bahrain.

In addition to these charges, he may also face a trial on charges of “spreading false news” for similar statements made during televised interviews last year. That case has not yet been referred to court, but is believed to have served, among others, for his arrest on 13 June.

Due to the poor detention conditions, Rajab’s health has been severely deteriorating since the time of his arrest. He continues to be held at West Riffa police station and family visits are being monitored very closely, according to his lawyers. His cell does not meet the requirements for long-term detention and the sanitary facilities are unhygienic. He has lost eight kilos since his arrest. Rajab has chronic inflammation in his lower back requiring urgent surgery, which has been delayed by the authorities until early September. In addition, he is also suffering from an irregular heartbeat, which has decreased below the normal range during his detention, and has also suffered from chest pains recently, having required a visit to the clinic. Despite the fact that he requires urgent medical treatment, prison authorities do not appear to provide sufficient medical assistance for most of these ailments. In the meantime, Rajab is dependent on his family to provide him with painkillers and bandages for his bleeding due to his ulcer.

Following his arrest, Rajab’s case has received widespread international attention by government officials and UN dignitaries, inter alia, by the spokesperson of the US State Department, the spokesperson of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as by members of the European Parliament, who adopted an urgent resolution condemning the Bahraini authorities’ crackdown on civil society and on the political opposition.

As a signatory to international human rights conventions, the Government of Bahrain is bound to guarantee the right to freedom of expression for all in Bahrain, including Nabeel Rajab. Depriving Rajab of his liberty for peaceful social media posts goes against Bahrain’s commitment to uphold these international conventions and raises the question of its ability to respect its legal obligations within the wider international community.

To date, the government in Bahrain has repeatedly demonstrated unwillingness to comply with international legal standards, despite promises made at the United Nations during its Universal Periodic Review, and during its own national inquiry, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

We therefore urge you to abide by the principles of democracy and human rights and to safeguard freedom of expression in Bahrain, as enshrined in international human rights legislation, by dropping all charges against the human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab and ensure his immediate and unconditional release.


Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
Brian Dooley, Human Rights First
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Committee for the Respect of Liberties in Tunisia
English PEN
European-Bahraini Organisation for human rights (EBOHR)
European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Human Rights Sentinel
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
Jesper Højberg, Executive Director, International Media Support
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
Libya Al-Mostakbal Centre for Media & Culture
MADA Palestinian Center for Development & Media Freedoms
Maharat Foundation
Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)
No Peace Without Justice
Pakistan Press Foundation
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
Tunis Centre for Press Freedom
Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH)
Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Letter: EU must not ignore collapse of media freedom in Turkey

The President of the European Council
Donald Tusk
General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175
B-1048 Bruxelles/Brussel

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights
Elmar Brok, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament

Dear President Tusk,

We, the undersigned press freedom and media organisations, are writing ahead of the upcoming meeting between EU leaders and Ahmet Davutoğlu, Prime Minister of Turkey, to express our concern over the collapse of media freedom in Turkey.

In the past six months, we have recorded 50 incidents in clear breach of international standards with regards to media freedom and pluralism in the country.[1] These violations include the recent government takeovers of the Feza media group and the Koza İpek Group; the prosecution and jailing of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül on politically motivated charges of terrorism, espionage and revealing classified information; the police raids of Bugün TV; the assault of journalist Ahmet Hakan; and the blocking of Dicle News Agency’s website.

Many of these violations took place against the backdrop of the migration and refugee crisis or are related to reporting on sensitive issues such as the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or Turkey’s security operations in the south. Hence we believe the Council has the mandate to address these violations during the specific working session on EU-Turkey cooperation.

This mandate stems from the Council’s commitment to the rights to freedom of expression including freedom of the press, which was reaffirmed when adopting the EU Human Rights Guidelines on “freedom of expression online and offline” on 12 May 2014.[2] By doing so, the Council pledged that “through its external policy instruments, the EU intends to help address and prevent violations of these rights in a timely, consistent and coherent manner.”

The guidelines also state that “all appropriate EU external financial instruments should be used to further protect and promote freedom of opinion and expression online as well as offline.”

While we welcome the fact that you discussed the situation of the media in Turkey with Prime Minister Davutoğlu last week, we believe the EU must not reach a deal without a specific conditionality clause that requires Turkey to improve the environment for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

When meeting Prime Minister Davutoğlu on 18 March 2016, you have the unique opportunity to not only discuss the press freedom situation in Turkey, but to bring forth concrete measures that Turkey ought to take in order to start reversing its unrelenting crackdown on the media. Without taking these measures Ankara cannot and must not be considered a trustful strategic partner for the European Union. Specifically, we ask that you make any EU-Turkey agreement conditional on the release of the more than dozen journalists currently jailed for their work;[3] the immediate return of the media outlets belonging to the Feza and Koza İpek groups to their rightful owners and editorial boards; and the abandonment of Turkey’s official practice of using vague anti-terror laws to equate press coverage with criminal activity.

At a time when the very essence of the European Union is questioned, it is critical to show unity and coherence over one of its core foundations: human rights, and in particular freedom of opinion and expression, which are fundamental elements of democracy.

Yours sincerely,

Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship
David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, Article 19
William Horsley, Vice President and Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
Jo Glanville, Director, English Pen
Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, President, European Federation of Journalists
Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director, International Press Institute
Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International
Christophe Deloire, Executive Director, Reporters Without Borders
Deborah Bonetti, President, Foreign Press Association in London

[1] (verified reports from 1 October 2015 to 14 March 2016)

[2] EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline, adopted by the Council on 12 May 2014 (Foreign Affairs Council meeting)

[3] At least 28 journalists jailed in Turkey (last update: 26 February 2016). Source: European Federation of Journalists and affiliates,