Bahrain: Nabeel Rajab sentenced to two years in prison
Paris-Geneva, July 10, 2017
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), founding Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been one of the country’s most vocal human rights defenders, denouncing human rights violations within the country’s Jaw prison, and denouncing Bahrain’s participation to the bombings of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
According to the information received, on July 10, 2017, Manama’s Lower Criminal Court handed down a two years’ prison sentence against Mr. Nabeel Rajab. Mr. Rajab, who is at the hospital since April 8, 2017 (see background information), was sentenced in absentia.
The sentence was handed down in the framework of the “Television interviews case”, in which Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being prosecuted on charges of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” (Article 134 of the Penal Code), and for which he was facing up to three years in prison. This charge is related to three televised interviews made in 2015 and 2016 in which he exposed Bahrain’s poor human rights record.
In addition, Mr. Nabeel Rajab, in the so-called “Twitter case”, is being accused of “insulting a statutory body” (Article 216 of the Penal Code), “disseminating false rumours in time of war” (Article 133) and “offending a foreign country [Saudi Arabia]” (Article 215), which carries up to 15 years in prison. Those charges are related to tweets he posted denouncing the torture of detainees in the Kingdom’s Jaw Prison and the human rights violations perpetrated by the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen (see background information). The next hearing in this case is scheduled on August 7, 2017.
Detained since June 13, 2016, Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been in arbitrary, solitary and pre-trial detention, in spite of his deteriorating health conditions.
In its concluding observations on Bahrain published on May 12, 2017, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) drew attention to the fact that “excessive use of solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or, depending on the circumstances, even torture (...)”. The UN CAT added that it was “deeply concerned” by the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of detained human rights defenders, including Mr. Nabeel Rajab.
The Observatory is appalled by the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, which comes after a trial marred by violations of his right to a fair trial and aims at sanctioning his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory calls upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nabeel Rajab, to put an end to any act of harassment against him, review the sentence handed against down him in accordance with internationally recognized rights to due process, to a fair trial and to be presumed innocent
On July 9, 2012, Mr. Rajab was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for allegedly libelling the residents of Al Muharraq via several tweets posted on his twitter account. On August 23, 2012, he was acquitted by the Higher Appeal Court.
On August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Rajab to three years of imprisonment in relation to three cases related to his participation in peaceful gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy. In December 2012, the Appeals Court reduced the sentence to two years of imprisonment. He was released in May 2014.
On October 1, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was remanded in detention by the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for “insulting a public institution” under Article 216 of the Penal Code. The case related to a tweet he published in September 2014, in which he criticised the military institutions for generating extremist ideologies (the “terrorism tweet” case). On November 2, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court ordered his release but barred him from leaving the country.
On January 20, 2015, the Third Lower Criminal Court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment on the charges of “insulting public institutions and the army”, under Article 216 of the Penal Code.
In 2015, two other criminal charges were brought against Mr. Rajab. On February 26, 2015, he was summoned for investigations for charges of “inciting hatred towards the regime” in relation to a speech he made in February 2011 during a funeral (the “funeral speech case”). To date, the police investigation is ongoing.
In addition, on April 2, 2015, oMr. Rajab was again arrested, sent to the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security, and placed in detention in solitary confinement in Isa Town Police Station. On April 3, 2015, he was interrogated by the CID regarding two new charges brought against him under criminal case No. 2015/38288. The first charge was “insulting a statutory body”, referring to the Ministry of Interior in relation to tweets he posted denouncing the torture of detainees at Jaw Prison (the “Jaw torture tweets” case). The second charge was “disseminating false rumours in time of war”, in relation to tweets he published about the Saudi-Arabia led coalition air strikes in Yemen (the “Yemen tweets” case). If sentenced on the second charge, Mr. Rajab could be facing up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Mr. Rajab refused to sign the police minutes of the investigations. On April 4, 2015, the Public Prosecution ordered seven days detention pending investigation.
On April 11, 2015, the Prosecution ordered an additional fifteen days in detention for Mr. Rajab. On April 26, 2015, the Public Prosecution officially charged Mr. Rajab under Articles 133 and 216, and subsequently extended his detention for an additional fifteen days. On May 11, the Bahraini High Court extended Mr. Rajab ́s preventive detention for 15 days.
On May 14, 2015, the Bahrain Criminal Court of Appeal upheld the six-month prison sentence (the “terrorism tweet” case).
On July 13, 2015, the King of Bahrain Hamad Ben Issa Al-Khalifa ordered through Royal Pardon the release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab for health reasons. Mr. Rajab had already served three of the six months’ jail sentence. Moreover, on the same date, the Public Prosecution imposed a travel ban against Mr. Rajab in relation to criminal case No. 2015/38288 related to the Jaw torture and Yemen tweets cases.
In the morning of June 13, 2016, police forces reportedly led by the Cybercrime Unit arrested Mr. Nabeel Rajab, after raiding his house and seizing a number of electronic devices. In the afternoon, he was able to contact his wife by phone, and reported being detained at East Riffa police station.
On June 14, he was transferred to the Public Prosecution, which remanded him in custody for seven days, on accusations of “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermine the prestige of the State” under Article 134 of the Penal Code.
On June 21, 2016, Mr. Nabeel Rajab appeared before the Public Prosecution, which remanded him in custody for eight additional days.
On June 28, 2016, he was transferred from police custody to the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) Hospital due to unprecedented heart problems. On the same day, he was examined by a doctor, and was transferred back to West Riffa police station.
On July 12, during the hearing, the judge dismissed the request for release filed by Mr. Rajab’s lawyers and the hearing was postponed to August 2.
On August 2, 2016, the High Criminal Court decided to postpone the trial to September 5 without justification.
On September 4, Mr. Rajab was summoned and questioned by CID officials. He was denied access to a lawyer on this occasion.
On September 5, 2016, the Public Prosecution announced that additional charges had been brought against Mr. Nabeel Rajab, for deliberately disseminating “false news and information and tendentious rumours that undermine the kingdom’s prestige and stature”, in relation to a letter published in the New York Times on September 4, 2016 , describing his judicial harassment and arbitrary detention. If convicted, this could add one year to his final sentence. In total, he now faces up to 16 years in prison. Therefore the court decided to postpone once again the next hearing in his trial to October 6, 2016.
On October 3, 2016, Mr. Nabeel Rajab underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder as a consequence of his poor detention conditions.
On October 6, 2016, the High Criminal Court decided after a five minutes hearing to postpone the trial to October 31, without providing any justification. Before the hearing, Mr. Rajab’s lawyers asked the Court a copy of his medical reports after the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecution failed to provide them, in clear violation of Mr. Rajab’s right to be informed of his own health condition.
Once more on October 31, 2016, the Fourth High Criminal Court postponed the trial until December 15 in order to obtain a technical expert from the Cyber-Crime Unit to determine who runs Rajab’s twitter account. Rajab arrived at the court right before the hearing, and was taken out immediately after the Judge made his pronouncements, while Rajab’s lawyers were still making applications.
On December 15, 2016, after a fifteen minutes hearing during which Mr. Nabeel Rajab was not allowed to speak, the Fourth High Criminal Court postponed the verdict until December 28, 2016 and refused to release him.
On December 21, 2016, the Cybercrime Unit of the Ministry of Interior took Mr. Nabeel Rajab out of custody for interrogation following the publication of a letter  quoting him in French newspaper Le Monde on December 19, 2016. The Cybercrime Unit is reportedly accusing Mr. Rajab of using the article to “spread false information and tendentious rumours insulting Bahrain and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States and harming their relations”. Further investigations on those publications are underway.
On December 28, 2016, Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court acceded to an application for Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s temporary release following a failure to give any basis or any sufficient evidence of a link between him and the Twitter account with respect to the Yemeni and Jaw prison tweets.
Then Mr. Rajab was taken to the CID for temporary release. However, he was re-arrested later on the same day and referred to the Public Prosecution in relation to an investigation into televised interviews dating from 2014, which commenced in mid-June 2016.
On December 28, 2016, the Public Prosecution ordered the pre-trial detention for seven days of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, pending investigation into televised interviews dating back to 2014. These interviews with television networks Lua Lua Channel, Al Etijah TV and Al-Alam News Network concerned the human rights situation in Bahrain. Within this case, Mr. Nabeel Rajab is being prosecuted on charge of “deliberately spreading false information and malicious rumours with the aim of discrediting the State” (Article 134 of the Penal Code) , which carries up to three years in prison.
On January 5, 2017, the Public Prosecution renewed Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s pre-trial detention for a further 15 days, pending investigation.
On April 5, 2017, Mr. Nabeel Rajab underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers at Manama’s military hospital. His family was denied the right to visit him while in hospital. Only two days after the surgery, Mr. Rajab was sent back to West Riffa police station where he remained in solitary confinement most of the time.
On April 8, 2017, Mr. Rajab was rushed to the police hospital in an ambulance because of an infected wound that followed the operation. Since that date, Mr. Nabeel Rajab is recovering from his medical condition and remains in Qaala clinic, which is a division of the Ministry of Interior.
Since January 2017, both the “Twitter case” and the “TV interviews” case have been endlessly postponed.
A timeline of harassment of Mr. Nabeel Rajab is available and regularly updated on BCHR website: http://bahrainrights.org/en/updates-arrest-and-detention-bchrs-president-nabeel-rajab?_ga=2.212874194.755018715.1494506593-1099758628.1494506593
Please write to the authorities of Bahrain urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and that of all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
ii. Release Mr. Nabeel Rajab immediately and unconditionally, as his detention is arbitrary and its conditions amount to ill-treatment and are endangering his life;
iii. In the meantime, ensure that Mr. Nabeel Rajab has full and unhindered access to proper medical treatment in adequate medical facilities;
iv. Review the sentence handed down against Mr. Nabeel Rajab in accordance with internationally recognized fair trial standards;
v. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;
vi. Fully implement the UN CAT Concluding Observations on Bahrain, published on May 12, 2017;
vii. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, Article 6 (c), 9, 11 and 12.2;
viii. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.