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Bahrain: Activist Nabeel Rajab jailed for 'fake news'

Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced to two years in prison in Bahrain for "broadcasting fake news".

A court ruled that he had undermined the "prestige" of the kingdom, the state news agency reports.
Rights groups have condemned the decision as an assault on free speech.
Nabeel Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, also risks further jail time for political tweets.

Read the article here.

 

Statement by the spokesperson of European Union External Action on the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab by a Bahraini Court

The decision of the Bahraini Lower Criminal Court to sentence Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to two years' imprisonment in absentia for media interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016 runs against Bahrain's commitment to uphold freedom of expression and work towards creating space for independent activism.

Mr Rajab has been repeatedly arrested and served several terms in prison. Neither him, who has been hospitalized in the Ministry of Interior hospital since April, nor his lawyers, were present at the hearing.

Read the statement here.

US Condemns Bahrain Court Decision to Jail Rights Activist for Two Years

The United States is disappointed that a court in Bahrain sentenced human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to two years in prison, the State Department said in a press release. The release explained that no individual should be prosecuted or imprisoned for exercising their human rights or fundamental freedoms.

"We are disappointed by the verdict sentencing prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to two years in prison today in Bahrain," the release stated on Monday. "We reaffirm our previous calls for his release."

Read the article here.

Nabeel Rajab sentenced to two years in prison

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 from 2012 to 2016 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.

Read the article here.

Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab: Two years for advocating human rights on TV

On July 10 the Bahraini Court sentenced the prominent Human Rights Defender and the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab to two years in prison in absentia. The Court convicted him on charges that stem solely from his peaceful activism, including for advocating human rights on TV. Rajab was charged with “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state” in three televised interviews in 2015 and 2016. The trial and verdict is the culmination of more than a year of unlawful pre-trial detention under harsh conditions that have led to severe health issues necessitating hospitalisation of Rajab for several months.

“Debating human rights on TV is not a crime and putting our president, a peaceful activist behind bars, is just outrageous” said the BCHR today. “The Bahraini government is using the Court to silence him.”

Nabeel Rajab did not attend today’s trial due to his health issues.

His prosecution was marked by serious violations of his fair trial rights, including the right to communicate freely with his counsel and the right to he heard in person and international observers were not allowed to attend the proceedings.

Today’s sentence was based on a charge under Article 134 of the Bahraini Penal Code which gives up to 3 years of prison for spreading false information and malicious rumors about domestic matters with the aim of discrediting and adversely affecting the State prestige. More precisely, Rajab was commenting on Bahrain's interdiction on foreign press.

Rajab is still awaiting his trial in a parallel case on tweets and retweets regarding the war in Yemen where he faces imprisonment of up to 15 years if convicted. For an overview of the proceedings in the two cases, see here.

Background

The international community has on several occasions called for the release of Nabeel Rajab. Most recently, on 27 June 2017, Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, issued a statement calling for the release of Nabeel Rajab. Panzeri said, “Rajab’s detention violates his right to freedom of expression. I call on the Bahraini authorities to grant lawyers and family members access to Nabeel Rajab, to drop all charges against him and to free him immediately.”

In May 2017, the UN Committee against torture in its concluding observations on Bahrain called for the release of Rajab and also the US Department of State has called for his release. Not too speak of leading NGOs. However, so far all of these demands have been to no avail.

The proceedings in the two cases against Rajab are a display of a blatant and continuous violation of the fundamental rights to a fair trial and to not to be subjected to torture/ ill-treatment. Rights which Bahrain has explicitly agreed to abide by when ratifying numerous international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

With regard to the issue of torture/ill-treatment, Rajab has been in solitary confinement for most parts of his detention which has at the time of writing gone on for 392 days and he has only had very limited contact with his family, with times where the contact has been completely cut off. According to the Committee against Torture, “[e]xcessive use of solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or, depending on the circumstances, torture (arts. 2, 11-13 and 16)”. Moreover, Rajab has developed multiple health issues following his pre-trial detention. In April, he underwent surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and was returned to prison one day after the surgery. Three days after his surgery, Rajab was rushed to the hospital due to  a serious infection he developed post-surgery in detention. He has since then been hospitalised, too weak to participate in court hearings resulting in a further postponement of the two trials against him.

With regard to the issue of lack of a fair trial, on 3 July, Rajab had his last hearing in the case related to the press interviews. Neither him, nor his lawyers attended the trial however. The lawyers have boycotted the trial since 14 June, in protest of the court’s decision to hold the hearings in Rajab’s absence: Despite Rajab’s doctor’s statement that he cannot be discharged, the judge went ahead with the hearing, allegedly without his lawyers’ defence plea being heard by the court. Following the hearing, Rajab has had very limited - at times no - access to his lawyers.

The breaches of Rajab’s fundamental right to a fair trial are manifold, including: 1) at times Rajab was held incommunicado; 2) He has at crucial times been denied access to his lawyer (most recently up to the hearing on 3 July). This constitutes a violation of Article 14 of the ICCPR which requires States to ensure access to full access to legal representation and adequate time to prepare the defence; and 3) Hearings have been held in his - medically excused - absence and he has, thus, been deprived of his right to defend himself during the hearings.

The BCHR are seriously concerned by today's verdict and the denial of Nabeel Rajab’s right to a fair trial. We reiterate the call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately release Nabeel Rajab and all other human rights defenders and to guarantee in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

 

State Department Should Call for Release of Bahraini Human Rights Defender Rajab

In advance of July 10th's expected verdict against leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, Human Rights First today called on the U.S. Department of State to demand his immediate and unconditional release. Rajab is charged with a series of free speech-related incidents for comments he made regarding Bahrain's human rights record. He has been in custody for over one year, including the last three months spent in a HOSPITAL recuperating from surgery. If convicted Rajab faces a three-year sentence.

Read article here.

Free Woman Human Rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition calls for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender Ebtisam Al-Saegh, and for an end to the harassment, intimidation, and threats she has been subjected to.  We express deep concern for Ebtisam Al-Saegh’s safety and wellbeing, and about the continued harassment, intimidation and violence she has faced at the hands of authorities in Bahrain, that is in direct violation of the country’s commitment to international human rights law.

Read article here.

Bahrain is stripping dissidents of their citizenship, and the U.S. is silent

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain is increasingly turning to a particularly draconian tool of repression: stripping dissidents of their citizenship.

Rights activists say authorities have revoked the citizenship of 103 people so far this year, already more than in 2016. All were convicted of terrorism-related crimes in trials that rights activists say lacked due process and transparency.

Read article here.

Open Letter to Ambassadors in the Kingdom of Bahrain - To the Unites States Ambassador

 
His Excellence William V. Roebuck
Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain
U.S. Embassy Manama
BLDG 979, Road 3119, Block 331, Zini
Manama, Bahrain

 

Re: Situation of Nabeel Rajab

7 June 2017

Your Excellency,

We write to alert you to the precarious situation facing Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). According to Mr. Rajab’s lawyers, the Bahraini judiciary will issue a sentence on Monday 10 July in one of the two cases for which he is being prosecuted. He is on trial in two cases relating to his right to freedom of expression, which could result in up to 18 years of prison, with other cases pending.

Mr. Rajab is likely to be sentenced in absentia to three years in prison on charges of “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state.” This relates to press interviews he gave in 2015 and 2016. These charges relate solely to the exercise of Mr. Rajab’s freedom of expression and are reprisals against his work exposing human rights violations in Bahrain.

Mr. Rajab has been hospitalized since April and been unable to attend the trial. Despite this, the Lower Criminal Court has insisted on holding court sessions. His lawyers have boycotted the trial since 14 June, in protest of the court’s decision to hold the hearings in Mr. Rajab’s absence, as he is still recovering at the Ministry of Interior Hospital from a post-surgery infection and not able to attend his hearings. Monday’s hearing with be the fourteenth hearing since the trial began. To date, the court has held eight hearings during Rajab’s hospitalization which he has been unable to attend.

We respectfully request your Excellency’s presence at the upcoming court hearing to ensure adequate protection of Mr. Rajab’s internationally protected rights, including rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), acceded to by Bahrain in 2006, and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. His fair trial rights and freedom of expression are being systematically denied by the Bahraini Government[1] as follows.

Since 19 June, Mr. Rajab has been prevented from contacting his lawyers and has had little contact with his family, apart from a visit in early July. The denial of regular communication raises fears for his health and safety. We believe it is a new form of harassment with the aim of transferring him back to prison. His health has steadily worsened during his lengthy detention and on 5 April he underwent surgery for bleeding ulcers, but was returned to the prison shortly afterwards. Due to the unhygienic detention conditions, Mr. Rajab developed a post-surgery infection and was rushed back to the Ministry of Interior hospital three days later. He has been slowly recovering ever since.

Mr. Rajab has been arbitrarily detained on spurious charges for over a year, over nine months of which has been in solitary confinement. This long-term isolation has been coupled with sleep deprivation, unsanitary cell conditions, and chronic physical pain, resulting in deteriorated mental health, including severe depression. In May, the Committee Against Torture expressed particular concern over Mr. Rajab’s solitary confinement and called for his release[2].

We support your dialogue with Bahrain; however, we are equally convinced that this relationship is only sustainable if it is founded on the mutual respect of democratic freedoms and human rights. Mr. Rajab is currently being punished for holding these same ideals. We urge you to stand by him now, and to call on the Bahraini government to grant his release immediately on humanitarian grounds, in light of the critical state of his mental and physical health and to immediately drop the expression-related charges.

We also urgently seek your assistance in verifying Mr. Rajab’s status and safeguarding his health by requesting permission from the authorities to visit him at the Ministry of Interior Hospital. The government has so far denied requests by human rights groups to visit him and examine his condition.

We also urge you to take action to ensure that the fair trial and due process rights of Mr. Rajab are adequately protected and to press for the Bahraini authorities to implement their own commitment to invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein to visit the country[3].  This visit which was postponed indefinitely, would be a critical step in encouraging the Bahraini government to engage with the recommendations and decisions of UN Human Rights bodies concerning Bahrain, including those calling specifically for the immediate release of Mr. Rajab.

Should you require any further information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

 

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

Bahrain Center for Human Rights

Front Line Defenders

Gulf Center for Human Rights

IFEX

International Federation for Human Rights

Pen International

World Organization against Torture

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights

 

[1] For more info, please see: http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/8758

[2] Committee Against Torture, CAT/C/BHR/CO/2-3, Concluding Observations on the Second and Third Periodic Reports of Bahrain, 29 May 2017, paras. 20, 21(e), 32, 33(b).