Bahrain: new five-year jail sentence for activist Nabeel Rajab is 'shameful'

Nabeel Rajab has faced years of persecution from the Bahraini authorities © Private

The already-jailed activist has been given latest jail term for tweeting about human rights violations in Bahrain and Yemen

‘The conviction of Nabeel Rajab today is a slap in the face to justice’ - Heba Morayef

UK accused of ‘lending cover’ over Bahrain’s crackdown

The sentencing of the prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to five years in prison today for peacefully expressing his opinions online illustrates the Bahraini authorities’ utter contempt for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International. 

The sentence relates to posts on his Twitter account in 2015, retweets about alleged torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison, and the killing of civilians in the Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.  

Mr Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been repeatedly harassed for his human rights work and has been in and out of prison since 2012 on various charges related to his peaceful activism. He has been banned from leaving Bahrain since November 2014. 

Rajab has been detained since June 2016 and is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for TV interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. The Court of Cassation in Manama, the Bahraini capital, upheld his sentence last month, convicting him of “disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status”. 

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director, said:

“The conviction of Nabeel Rajab today is a slap in the face for justice. 

“This sentence demonstrates the authorities’ ruthless determination to crush all forms of dissent and leaves no room for doubt about the extreme lengths to which they are willing to go in order to silence peaceful critics.

“This shameful verdict must be quashed and the authorities must drop all pending charges and immediately release Nabeel Rajab. It is absolutely outrageous that he be forced to spend a further five years in jail simply for daring to voice his opinions online.” 

UK ‘lending cover’ over Bahrain’s crackdown

Amnesty has repeatedly expressed concern that leading Western countries, including the UK, have failed to speak out sufficiently strongly about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. In a report last September, Amnesty accused the UK of “lending cover” to Bahrain through its muted reactions as well as doing little to investigate reprisal attacks against people in Bahrain following protests mounted by Bahrainis in the UK.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s Foreign Affairs Analyst, said:

“Unless there’s a strong reaction from the UK about this latest shameful verdict from a Bahraini court, it’s going to be hard to avoid the conclusion that the UK is once again lending cover to Bahrain as it cracks down on its human rights activists.” 

Multiple pending charges

On 4 September 2016, an open letter was printed under Nabeel Rajab’s name in the opinion pages of the New York Times, describing the situation in Bahrain, his own trial, and urging the Obama administration to use its leverage to resolve the conflict in Yemen. The next day, Bahrain’s public prosecution interrogated and charged Rajab with “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of the state” in relation to the article. No trial date for this case has yet been set. 

Meanwhile, on 19 December 2016, another article was published in Rajab’s name in Le Monde. Two days later, he was interrogated at Bahrain’s Criminal Investigation Directorate, accused of “spreading false news and statements and malicious rumours that undermine the prestige of Bahrain and the brotherly countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and an attempt to endanger their relations”. The case was referred to the public prosecution, but it is as yet unknown if he will be officially charged. 

On 12 September 2017, Bahrain’s Terrorism Prosecution authority interrogated Rajab in connection with comments and an image posted on social media accounts running in his name in January 2017. An image of the King of Bahrain with a Quranic verse asking whether he believed that “no one had power over him” was posted on an Instagram account in his name, while comments on non-cooperation with national institutions and a call to protest against the January 2017 execution of three men were posted on his Twitter account. He denied the charges of “incitement to hatred against the regime”, “incitement to non-compliance with the law” and “spreading false news”. The case has yet to be referred to trial and could be activated at any time.

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