The authorities in Bahrain must release Nabeel Rajab, a prominent jailed human rights activist who is eligible for release this Friday.
Mr Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been detained since July 2012 after being jailed for taking part in an anti-government protest. Amnesty considers him a prisoner of conscience. On 29 November he will have served three-quarters of his two-year sentence and will become legally eligible for release.
Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison in August 2012 for calling for and participating in “illegal gatherings” and “disturbing public order” between February and March of that year. His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal.
An Amnesty trial observer who attended a 10 September hearing on his case reported that Rajab told the court that he had been held in dire conditions and was subjected to ill-treatment. He described being placed in solitary confinement in a cell with a dead animal. He also said that he was held almost naked, with only a small piece of cloth covering his genitals.
Nabeel Rajab was repeatedly detained and persecuted by the authorities even before his arrest last year. In February 2012 he was punched in the face several times by riot police as he led a demonstration. He was also arrested after returning from a human rights workshop in Lebanon in May 2012 and charged with “insulting a national institution” (the Ministry of Interior) in his tweets. Two months later he was sentenced to three months in prison for different comments he made on Twitter about Bahrain’s Prime Minister. His conviction on this charge was overturned, but only after he had already served his three-month sentence.
The Bahraini authorities have repeatedly used legislation to punish peaceful protesters taking part in unauthorised gatherings. Under the country’s penal code, gatherings of more than five people can be criminalised if those assembled were deemed to do so with the intention to commit a crime or any acts aimed at undermining public security.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“A failure to release Nabeel Rajab on Friday would make it crystal clear that his imprisonment is not about justice or the law but about silencing him.
“Nabeel Rajab should never have been imprisoned in the first place. As a human rights defender he should be allowed to carry out his work free from intimidation or threat of reprisal. His arrest, detention and trial demonstrate the brazen disregard the Bahraini authorities have displayed for human rights and freedom of expression.
“Not only has Nabeel Rajab been unfairly detained for more than a year but he has also been held in inhumane and humiliating conditions.
“His detention for taking part in a peaceful protest shows the lengths to which Bahrain’s authorities will go to stamp out dissent. His case also shows how, despite repeated promises of reform, Bahrain continues to flout its international human rights obligations.”
Two years after the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was charged with investigating human rights violations committed in connection with the 2011 protests in Bahrain, the government has not implemented the report’s key recommendations. Prisoners of conscience remain behind bars and the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly continue to be suppressed.
In July Bahrain’s King, Shaikh Hamad Bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, issued several decrees toughening punishments laid out in the 2006 anti-terrorism law and further curtailed the right to freedom of assembly. This included banning all protests, sit-ins and public gatherings in Manama indefinitely and giving the security forces additional powers.