Paris-Geneva, October 18, 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 violation of the rights of the defence during the third hearing of the appeal against the three years ’ imprisonment sentence pronounced against Nabeel Rajab, who has been arbitrarily detained since July 9, 2012.

On October 16, 2012, the Bahrain Appeals Court resumed the hearing on the appeal against the three years’ imprisonment sentence pronounced against 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[1], on August 16, 2012 by the Lower Criminal Court for three cases related to his participation in peaceful gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy. The hearing was attended by Mr. Antoine Aussedat, French lawyer, who had been mandated by the Observatory to conduct an international trial observation mission. He was the only trial observer mandated by an international NGO. Several diplomats representing France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA also attended the hearing.

The Observatory deplores that at least one international defence witness was denied entry to Bahrain. Indeed, FIDH's Representative, Stéphanie David, Head of MENA Desk, who had been called upon to testify as a witness by the defence team, was denied entry into Bahrain on October 16, 2012. The Observatory considers that preventing international experts from testifying before a court amounts to a blatant violation of the rights of the defence. Nabeel Rajab's lawyers had formally requested the Court to issue a letter to the Customs to facilitate the entry of several international witnesses, including Ms. David, but the court refused to issue such a letter. Despite the Court's lack of support, FIDH, together with the defence lawyers, decided to confirm Ms. David's travel to Bahrain for the purpose of the trial. During the hearing, the defence lawyers' request to call international witnesses was rejected by the Court on the ground that their testimonies were not “relevant”.

In addition, the Observatory regrets that part of the evidence have not been examined in public and that the defence lawyers have not had access to all the evidence filed in the criminal case in due time. Indeed, the defence lawyers asked the Court that a video that had been used as evidence to convict Mr. Rajab be shown during the appeal hearing, as the said video had not been shown during the first instance[1]. The Appeals Court informed the defence team that the video could not be shown as it had disappeared from the criminal file. In addition, the Court attempted to show a second video submitted by the Prosecutor, but which had not been added as part of the criminal case file. After a brief attempt, the Court suspended the hearing for more than two hours to solve technical issues. When the hearing resumed, the court announced that the trial was again adjourned to November 8, 2012. The Observatory calls on the judicial authorities to ensure that Nabeel Rajab's lawyers have access to all the evidence filed in the criminal case in due time.

The Observatory deplores the above-mentioned incidents, which blatantly violate the rights of the defence, including the principle of the equality of arms, and reiterates its call to the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Rajab and to put an end to all acts of judicial harassment against him, as his prolonged detention seems to merely aim at sanctioning legitimate human rights activities protected under international human rights law.

For more information, please contact: - FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: +33 (0)14355 2518 - OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41(0) 228094939

[1]Mr. Rajab is also a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Division and Chair of CARAMAsia.

[1]The Court in first instance insisted that the said video be only shown in camera, which was refused by the defence lawyers who insisted on showing it in the court room in public.