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Bahrain upholds rights defender Nabeel Rajab's five-year sentence

Demonstrators hold up a poster bearing portraits of jailed human right activists Nabeel Rajab (L) and Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja (R) in the village of Musalia, Bahrain, 1 May 2015
Demonstrators hold up a poster bearing portraits of jailed human right activists Nabeel Rajab (L) and Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja (R) in the village of Musalia, Bahrain, 1 May 2015

MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on gc4hr.org on 5 June 2018.

On 5 June 2018, Bahrain's High Court of Appeal upheld a five-year sentence against Nabeel Rajab, founding director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), for tweeting about the war in Yemen and torture in Bahrain's notorious Jaw Prison. GCHR condemns the sentence and calls for Rajab's immediate and unconditional release. He has been in prison since his arrest on 13 June 2016.

Rajab, who is also the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Deputy Secretary General, has the right to appeal this case at the Court of Cassation. On 21 February 2018, Rajab was sentenced to five years in prison on several charges. The first charge was for "offending national institutions" in connection to his documentation of mistreatment and torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison in March 2015. The second charge of "spreading rumors during wartime" related to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of the conflict. He was also charged under the Bahrain penal code with "offending a foreign country," Saudi Arabia, for its role in airstrikes on Yemen.

The five-year sentence is on top of a two-year sentence for media interviews upheld by the Court of Cassation on 15 January 2018. He is also facing charges in connection with letters published in The New York Times and Le Monde, as well as 14 other outstanding cases for which the authorities have threatened to charge him. All of the cases violate Rajab's right to freedom of expression.

A trial observation mission mandated in February 2018 by GCHR, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT), Front Line Defenders, English PEN, and BCHR concluded that the trial proceedings in the twitter case were unfair, noting in particular that neither Rajab nor his lawyer were allowed to speak during a two-minute sentence hearing.

GCHR reiterates its concern that Rajab is being held in close, dirty conditions with six other prisoners who are treated poorly because they are transgender. Complaints about verbal abuse and poor treatment of the transgender prisoners were disregarded. They don't share a common language. Rajab is also deprived of books and writing materials. As well, doctors have recommended surgery for Rajab for skin and health issues which have occurred due to the unhygienic conditions.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally overturn the sentences against Nabeel Rajab and free him, as these sentences and his detention are arbitrary since they only aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;
  2. Provide all necessary medical care, and access to his family and lawyers;
  3. Ensure that judicial proceedings in Bahrain adhere to international standards of fair trial; and
  4. Guarantee that human rights defenders may work freely without persecution in Bahrain.

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