as criminalisation and threats against human rights defenders go unabated

2 October 2012

Paris-Geneva, October 2, 2012 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), deplores the decision to further delay the trial on appeal of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General. Such ongoing judicial harassment and arbitrary detention is one more evidence of the continued criminalisation of human rights defenders’ activities.

On September 27, 2012, the Bahrain Appeals Court once more refused to release Mr. Nabeel Rajab on bail and further postponed the ruling on his appeal to October 16, 2012[1]. The Bahrain Appeals Court was seized by Mr. Rajab’s lawyers to contest the decision taken on August 16, 2012 by the Lower Criminal Court to sentence him to three years’ imprisonment for three cases related to his participation in peaceful gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy. In addition, during the hearing, the court continued to deal with the three cases as separate cases, rejecting once more the request of the defence to merge them. Mr. Rajab has been detained since last July 9 and has been continuously denied release since then[2].

Moreover, during the hearing, the judge reportedly showed a DVD containing images of Mr. Nabeel Rajab at peaceful demonstrations arguing with an officer on the legality of the protest, as well as images of young people throwing Molotov cocktails during what the judge alleged was one of these protests. Mr. Rajab’s lawyers insisted that this last part did not take place at the same location nor time as those of the said peaceful protest. Mr. Rajab further recalled that none of the protests he attended had witnessed violence. Mr. Rajab’s lawyers s well as some observers who attended the hearing, consider that this part of the DVD consist in clear montages.

The Observatory is thus extremely concerned over the new postponement decided by the judge, as it aims at sanctioning Mr. Rajab’s human rights activities by keeping him in arbitrary detention. The Observatory further strongly denounces the montages broadcast in court, which clearly aim at discrediting Mr. Rajab and legitimate peaceful protests in general.

In addition, the Observatory deplores that, notwithstanding the commitments expressed on several occasion by the Bahraini authorities to make NGOs’ access to Bahrain easier, the visa request which was submitted by the Observatory on September 19, 2012 to the relevant authorities on behalf of an Observatory-mandated trial observer, was accepted only a few hours before the planned flight departure of the said observer, making it impossible for him to travel to Bahrain.

The Observatory further highlights that on September 26, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja, a human rights blogger who has been denouncing human rights violations of the Bahraini regime, was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment on the charge of destroying government property for publicly tearing a picture of the King of Bahrain. The Observatory recalls that Ms. Al-Khawaja has been detained for almost two months[3], and has therefore already served most of the sentence. It is however unsure whether she will be released in the following days or be kept in detention, as 12 other cases have been filed against her over the past months for her participation in peaceful protests.

The Observatory is also extremely concerned about the ongoing threats of reprisals targeting Bahraini human rights defenders who cooperate with the United Nations (UN). Most recently, on September 23, the defenders who travelled to Geneva to participate in the 21st session of the Human Rights Council have been accused of “defaming Bahrain” and labelled as “traitors to the country” by pro-governmental newspaper Al-Watan. One of them even reportedly received death threats through anonymous phone calls while he was in Geneva.

In this context, the Observatory reiterates its call on the Bahraini authorities to release Mr. Nabeel Rajab, Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja and all human rights defenders detained immediately and unconditionally, and to put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against them. Mr. Rajab’s prolonged detention and the conditions in which his trial on appeal has been held up to this day, seem to merely aim at sanctioning his activities in favour of human rights and to discredit peaceful human rights activities in general. The Observatory further calls upon the Bahraini authorities to ensure that human rights defenders cooperating with the UN be free from any kind of threats, harassment or reprisals in relation with their human rights activities.

The Observatory recalls once more that the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly constitute necessary fundamental freedoms, and that no form of criminalisation of those rights can be tolerable or justified under any circumstances.

The Observatory also urges the Bahraini authorities to ensure that international observers will be able to attend Mr. Rajab’s next appeal hearings without any hindrances.

For more information, please contact: · FIDH: Arthur Manet: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 · OMCT: Anne-Laurence Lacroix: +41 (0) 22 809 49 39

[1] On September 10, 2012, a Bahrain appeals court had already refused to release him on bail and has scheduled the next hearing for September 27. See Observatory Press Release, Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab to remain in detention, appeal trial to resume on September 27, issued on September 12, 2012. [2] Mr. Nabeel Rajab was initially arrested in relation to another criminal case for which he was acquitted on August 23, 2012. See the Observatory’s Urgent Appeals BHR 001/0512/OBS 048.2 and BHR 001/0812/OBS 048.6. [3] Ms. Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested on August 2, 2012 after she peacefully protested alone at Al Qadam roundabout against the arbitrary detention of her father, Mr. Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. See also Observatory Press Release, Authorities keep a hard line against human rights defenders despite international outcry, issued on September 5, 2012.