PEN calls for charges against Nabeel Rajab to be dropped

16 NGOs urge international community to pressure Bahrain to drop charges against Nabeel Rajab

English PEN has joined 15 other regional and international human rights organisations in writing to express grave concern ahead of the court verdict on 20 January in the trial of Mr Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights defender.

On 1 October 2014, Rajab reported to the Cyber Crimes Unit of Bahrain’s General Directorate of Criminal Investigations (CID) after being summoned for questioning. Following hours of interrogation in relation to a tweet he published while abroad, Rajab was arrested. The tweet read: “Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”

For this tweet, Rajab was charged with insulting the Ministries of Interior and Defense under article 216 of the penal code, which states that “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.” Rajab was released on bail on 2 November, but was banned from traveling outside the country. If found guilty, he could face up to six years in prison.

The charges levelled against Rajab are illegal under Bahrain’s commitments to the international community and international human rights law. Bahrain is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), having acceded to the covenant in 2006. Article 19 of the ICCPR provides everyone with the fundamental rights to opinion and expression. Further, international jus cogens norms protect against the arbitrary deprivation of liverty, especially in relation to acts related to free expression. By prosecuting Rajab for statements that he made over Twitter, the Bahraini government violates its own commitments to the international community.

The ongoing suppression of basic human rights in Bahrain has drawn heavy criticism from the international community. In June 2014, 47 United Nations Member States signed a joint statement on Bahrain expressing concern “about the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders.” The statement also called on Bahrain to “release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights, including human rights defenders.” In 2014 a European Parliament resolution also called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful protesters, including Nabeel Rajab…”

The undersigned NGOs close the letter by urging the international community to explicitly and publicly call for the Government of Bahrain to immediately drop all charges against Rajab and the many others currently facing charges or serving arbitrary jail sentences for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

NGO signatories:

  • Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain
  • Amnesty International
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  • English PEN
  • FIDH in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • Freedom House
  • Front Line Defenders
  • Gulf Center for Human Rights
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Federation for Human Rights
  • OMCT in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • PEN International
  • Project on Middle East Democracy
  • Rafto Foundation for Human Rights

Additional Background:

Nabeel Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Advisory Board.

Bahrain authorities have previously prosecuted Rajab on politically motivated charges. They have never presented any credible evidence that Rajab has advocated, incited or engaged in violence.

Mr Rajab was detained from May 5 to May 28, 2012, for Twitter remarks criticizing the Interior Ministry for failing to investigate attacks carried out by what Rajab said were pro-government gangs against Shia residents. On June 28, 2012, a criminal court fined him 300 Bahraini Dinars (US$790) in that case.

Authorities again detained Rajab on June 6, 2012, for another Twitter remark calling for Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa to step down. On July 9, 2012, a criminal court convicted and sentenced him to three months in prison on that charge. A court of appeal overturned that verdict, but in a separate case a criminal court sentenced him to three years in prison for organizing and participating in three unauthorized demonstrations between January and March 2012. An appeals court reduced the sentence to two years, which Mr Rajab completed in May 2014.

In September 2014 Mr Rajab travelled to Europe to call for stronger international action on Bahrain. He met with representatives of various European governments and the EU, spoke to the media, and addressed UN fora.

In the current case, Mr Rajab was detained on 1 October 2014, within 24 hours of his return to Bahrain.

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