Bahrain: PEN joins NGOs urging 50 governments to call for Nabeel Rajab’s release

Rights groups yesterday wrote to the governments of 50 states urging them to publicly call for the release of Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment for comments he made on Twitter. Last week, Bahrain brought the new charge of ‘defaming the state’ against him, in relation to an op-ed published in The New York Times.

The letter from 22 NGOs, also signed by colleagues at Amnesty International, BIRD, and Human Rights Watch, urges the 50 governments to ‘speak out on Bahrain’s continued misuse of the judicial system to harass and silence human rights defenders, through charges that violate freedom of expression’. Among those addressed are the governments of France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Read the letter to the UK government here and please consider sending a copy to your MP

While the US State Department called for Nabeel Rajab’s release on 6 September, other governments have not done so. The 50 states addressed in the letter are all previous signatories of statements at the United Nations criticising Bahrain’s ongoing human rights violations and calling for progress.

Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk Programme Manager at English PEN, said:

We are extremely concerned that just days after many of our organisations held protests outside the Bahraini embassies in London and Washington DC calling for his release, Nabeel Rajab now faces an additional charge simply for putting pen to paper. Our own governments can and must put more pressure on their Bahraini counterparts in order to put an end to the ongoing persecution of Nabeel Rajab and the many others activists currently detained in Bahrain.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Al-Hussein, used his opening statement at the 33rd Human Rights Council this week to raise concern over Bahrain’s harassing and arresting human rights defenders. He cautioned 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.’

Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been held in pre-trial detention since 13 June. During this time he has been held largely in solitary confinement, and his health has deteriorated as a result. Since 2011, Nabeel Rajab has faced multiple prosecutions and prison sentences for his vocal activism. He was subjected to a travel ban in 2014 and has been unable to leave the country.

Nabeel Rajab currently faces charges including ‘insulting a statutory body’, ‘insulting a neighbouring country’, and ‘disseminating false rumours in time of war’, in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted in 2015 relating to torture in Bahrain’s Jau prison and the role of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition in causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Nabeel Rajab’s next court session has been set for 6 October, when he is expected to be sentenced.


NGOs and others have been urging action on Nabeel Rajab’s case since he was imprisoned in pre-trial detention in June. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy wrote to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on 7 September urging public action on Nabeel Rajab. On 2 September, 34 NGOs wrote a letter to the King of Bahrain calling for Nabeel Rajab’s release.

In August, as part of an initiative organised by Index on Censorship, leading writers wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May asking the UK government to call on Bahrain, their ally, to release Nabeel Rajab. They included playwright David Hare, author Monica Ali, comedian Shazia Mirza, MP Keir Starmer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.

On 1 September, English PEN joined fellow organisations to hold a vigil for Nabeel Rajab outside Embassies in London and Washington DC to mark his birthday and continue calls for his release.


  • Share a copy of this letter with your MP, urging them to speak out for Nabeel Rajaab
  • Share details of Nabeel’s case and calls for his release on social media #ReleaseNabeel
  • Send Nabeel a message of support – email to request more details

About English PEN staff

This content is published by the English PEN staff.

View all posts by English PEN staff →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *