Case History: Nabeel Rajab
On 14 June 2017, Nabeel Rajab faced two trials: one in the morning for tweeting, the other this afternoon for speaking to journalists. The morning trial, heard before the Higher Criminal Court, has been postponed to 7 August. Nabeel did not attend court, having been hospitalised since early April after suffering a severe health deterioration in solitary confinement, and his lawyers requested a postponement of the trial, which was denied. In protest, Nabeel's lawyers and diplomatic observers from the US, UK and Australia walked out of the courtroom.
There are serious concerns regarding the health of Nabeel Rajab after he underwent surgery for a bleeding ulcer on his back on 05 April 2017. Following the surgery, Nabeel Rajab was returned to West Riffa police station, where he has been routinely held in solitary confinement, despite risk of infection. According to his family, Nabeel Rajab “was forced to stay with dirty clothes with blood all over it and denied any hygienic products for two days.” He has “a deep and open wound which causes severe pain and needs constant care and what’s worsening the situation is that he has a weak immune system.” On 08 April, the human rights defender was rushed to the police hospital, where he remains.
Nabeel Rajab is a human rights defender and President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. He is one of the most prominent Arab human rights defenders and has been a leading voice in the Arab Spring in Bahrain. He has faced physical intimidation, arrest, detention and travel bans as a result of his work and has been sentenced to prison in violation of rights of assembly and expression.
Despite a court’s decision to temporarily release Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab in a Twitter case, he was immediately taken into custody on another investigation in relation to televised interviews dating back to 2015 and January 2016. The pending charges are without substance and must be dropped and he must be immediately and unconditionally released, say the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), who mandated a joint trial observation mission.
On 28 December 2016, following an important mobilisation for his release, Manama’s Fifth High Criminal Court acceded to an application for Nabeel Rajab’s temporary release following a failure to give any basis or any sufficient evidence of a link between him and the Twitter account with respect to the Yemeni and Jaw prison tweets (see below).
“The quality of the evidence from the purported computer forensic expert was very poor. It extended no further than a recital of the results of a basic google search,” said the trial observer. “The supposedly neutral expert witness is an employee of the Bahrain government Ministry of interior,” he added.
According to defense submissions made by Rajab’s lawyer during the hearing: “There has never been any sound legal justification to hold Nabeel Rajab in detention in this trial because of a lack of evidence since the very start of this case. The evidence of the Ministry of Interior’s so-called expert before the Court today makes it clearer than ever that at no point in time has there been, nor probably could there have been, any technical evidence to support this prosecution. Hence Nabeel Rajab’s release should be ordered forthwith.” The judge agreed and ordered the temporary release of Rajab until the next hearing scheduled on 23 January 2017 in which the court will allow the Public Prosecution to present new evidence against Nabeel Rajab, after such was requested by the Public Prosecution.
Nabeel Rajab thus continues to face charges of allegedly “offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia) and “offending national institutions,” for comments about the alleged torture of inmates in Bahrain’s Jaw Prison in March 2015. He still faces up to 15 years in prison notably for tweets critical of Bahrain’s participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen, which according to the United Nations, have so far been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. A travel ban remains in place as it has been without a break for almost three years.
Then Rajab was taken to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) for temporary release. However, he was re-arrested later on the same day and referred to the Public Prosecution in relation to an investigation into televised interviews dating from 2015 and January 2016, which commenced in mid-June 2016. He will be held for seven days on these charges. It seems that these interviews were with television networks which support the Bahraini opposition: a Bahraini network (based in the United Kingdom), a Lebanese network and an Iranian network.
“It is shocking that the Court has only ordered Nabeel Rajab’s temporary release when there was a finding of no evidence after more than a year of the Twitter case. It is extraordinary that he has been immediately taken back into custody for investigation on charges relating to events that date back to 2015 and January 2016, in an investigation which has been completely dormant since mid-June 2016,” noted the trial observer.
Nabeel Rajab is the co-founder and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of GCHR, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH from 2012 to 2016, and a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch. Comments on his Twitter account about the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen first led to his arrest on April 2, 2015. He remained in custody until he received a royal pardon for health reasons and was thus released on July 13, 2015. Again on 13 June 2016 he was arrested for the televised interviews. During his detention in relation to the televised interviews’ investigation he was referred for trial in the criminal court in relation to the Yemeni war Tweets. He remained in detention on these charges until December 28, 2016.
He has suffered from poor health in prison including heart problems. Most worryingly, he has been held in solitary confinement for the vast majority of that period and denied access to proper care. It is reported that his cell is air conditioned but filthy and infested with cockroaches. On 3 October, 2016, he was taken to the Bahraini Defense Forces hospital for surgery to remove his gallbladder. Despite the risks of moving him back to jail, Rajab was taken from the hospital the day after his surgery and placed in solitary confinement in a dirty cell. Three days after surgery, he was taken back to court.
“The practice of holding a person in solitary confinement for prolonged periods is internationally recognised as a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that may amount to torture. Solitary confinement can have a devastating effect on a prisoner’s mental health.” remarked the trial observer.
Charges regarding the Yemeni Tweets are based on Articles 133 and 160 of Bahrain’s Penal code and provide for up to 10 years in prison for anyone who “deliberately announces in wartime false or malicious news, statements or rumors.” Charges regarding the televised interviews are based on Article 134 of the Penal code, which provides between three months and three years of imprisonment for releasing deliberately “abroad false or malicious news or statements or rumours about domestic conditions or for exercising in any manner whatsoever activities that are harmful to the national interests.”
In September 2016, an additional investigation was initiated against Rajab following the publication on September 05, 2016 of an Op-Ed in “The New York Times” with his by-line, which discussed the conditions of his imprisonment and arrest. The pending charge of “intentionally broadcasting false news and malicious rumours abroad impairing the prestige of the State” carries an additional one-year prison term if he is convicted.
On December 21, 2016, Rajab was interrogated in connection with a letter published in his name in the French newspaper “Le Monde” on December 19, which urged Paris and Berlin to “reassess their relationship with [members of the Gulf Cooperation Council], which actively work against democracy and human rights and fan the flames of violence and extremism.”
Human rights organisations, the UN and government representatives worldwide have all called for Rajab to be released, including through ANHRI “Their Freedom is Their Right” Campaign which named him Prisoner of the Month in September, FIDH #RT4Freedom website, and a case history by Front Line Defenders.
ANHRI, Front Line Defenders, GCHR and the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) call on the Government of Bahrain to:
1. Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him, as well remove his travel ban;
2. Uphold international legal standards including ensuring that technical experts are independent; and
3. End all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders and other activists in Bahrain, including travel bans, to which they have been subjected in violation of their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
On 31 October, the Fourth High Criminal Court of Bahrain postponed the trial of prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab until 15 December in order to obtain a technical expert from the Cyber-Crime Unit to determine who runs Rajab’s twitter account. Despite his illness, Nabeel Rajab was refused bail and remains jailed for his alleged tweets about the Saudi-led coalition air-strikes in Yemen and his human rights activities in violation of his right to freedom of expression.
On 1 Novemeber, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), FIDH & the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Front Line Defenders called for Nabeel Rajab to be freed immediately and unconditionally.
Update: Nabeel Rajab's trial was postponed to 15 December.
On 5 September 2016, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was charged with "undermining prestige" of Bahrain for publishing an article in The New York Times, titled "A letter from a Bahraini jail".
In his op-ed, Nabeel writes:
"America’s actions have emboldened the Bahraini government to detain me and other rights advocates: Its unconditional support for Saudi Arabia and its lifting of the arms ban on Bahrain have direct consequences for the activists struggling for dignity in these countries. Instead of fanning the flames in Yemen by supplying arms to the Saudi coalition, Mr. Obama’s administration should use its leverage to resolve the conflict. Working to secure the release of people who call for peace, and are trying to build democracy in the region, would serve that aim".
On 2 August 2016, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab's trial was postponed to 5 September. He faces up to 12 years in prison for criticizing the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen. His trial began on 12 July, following a two week period in solitary confinement after his arrest in June.
On 12 July 2016, new charges were brought against human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, following his first court hearing which was subsequently adjourned to 2 August. Nabeel's health is acutely deteriorating due to poor detention conditions.
He is charged of “insulting a statutory body”, “disseminating false rumors in time of war”, and newly accused of “insulting a neighboring country (Saudi Arabia)” over social media posts in which he criticised the ongoing war against Yemen. The Bahraini High Court rejected his release following his lawyer's request, and he will remain in detention for another three weeks pending his trial. He is currently held at the West Riffa Police Station in Riffa, Bahrain.
Human rights defender Nabeel Rajab has been rushed to Bahrain’s military hospital after suffering unprecedented heart problems after 15 days of solitary confinement. According to his family, Nabeel Rajab is suffering an irregular heartbeat. He is currently at the Coronary Care Unit at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital.
Sumaya Rajab, Nabeel Rajab’s wife, reported: “We raised our extreme worries about the effects isolated detention would have on Nabeel’s health and we were ignored. Nabeel never suffered heart problems before. My husband is a human rights defender and does not deserve this treatment.”
Nabeel Rajab's family was allowed to visit him on 14 June. He is now at the offices of the public prosecution with his lawyer and charged with publishing and broadcasting false news that undermined the prestige of the state. He will remain in detention for seven days.
13 June 2016 marked the opening of the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and the rearrest of prominent human rights defender Mr Nabeel Rajab by Bahraini authorities following a raid on his house. In a separate case, on 12 June 2016, three human rights defenders were banned from travelling to Geneva to attend the UNHRC session.
Nabeel Rajab is a Bahraini human rights defender, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). He has campaigned around the world to bring attention to human rights abuses in Bahrain committed by the state. He has been repeatedly arrested and has served several prison sentences as a result of his human rights work and for leading a pro-democracy uprising in 2011.
In the early hours of 13 June 2016, the Cybercrime Unit of the Bahraini Police Force stormed Nabeel Rajab's house in the village of Bani Jamra, near the capital Manama, without a search warrant. He was also arrested without a warrant and no reason has been given for his arrest. His personal electronic devices have been confiscated by the police including his laptop. He was immediately transferred to East Riffa Police Station and has since been transferred to the Offices of the Public Prosecutor where he is currently detained. He has not been informed of any charges brought against him.
On 14 July 2015, Nabeel Rajab was released for health reasons following a Royal Pardon, after he had served three months of the six-month prison sentence he received, over charges of “insulting a statutory body”, “spreading rumours during a time of war”, and “disseminating false news causing damage to public security.” He was issued a travel ban on the day of his release and charges are still outstanding against him.
In a separate case on 12 June 2016, as the UNHRC convenes, Bahraini security forces prevented three human rights defenders, Mr Hussain Radhi, Ms Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Mr Ibrahim Al-Demistani from travelling to Geneva from Bahrain International Airport to attend the UNHRC and to participate in a side event on the situation of human rights in Bahrain. They were held for one hour by officials at the airport before being informed that a travel ban had been imposed against them, for which no reason was given. Ibrahim Al-Demistani was later informed that the public prosecution had issued a travel ban against him on 9 June 2016.
In his opening statement of the UNHRC, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein commented on the situation in Bahrain and declared that “At least 250 people in Bahrain have reportedly been stripped of their citizenship by the Government because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the Kingdom. In addition to these severe restrictions on freedom of expression, which contravene Bahrain’s international human rights obligations, an indefinite ban on gatherings in the capital has been in place since 2013. Dozens of people – including minors – have been prosecuted for participating in protests. Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.”
Front Line Defenders expresses strong concern for the rearrest and on-going harassment of Nabeel Rajab, as well as the travel ban imposed against the three human rights defenders prevented from attending the UNHRC. Front Line Defenders believes that the on-going proceedings against Nabeel Rajab and the travel bans imposed against the three human rights defenders are solely motivated by the their peaceful and legitimate activities in the defence of human rights.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Bahrain to:
1. Ensure the immediate release of Mr Nabeel Rajab, and drop the charges outstanding against him, as Front Line Defenders believes he is being detained solely as a result of his peaceful and legitimate human rights work;
2. Lift the travel ban against human rights defenders Mr Hussain Radhi, Ms Ebtisam Al-Saegh and Mr Ibrahim Al-Demistani;
3. Return all of Nabeel Rajab's belongings confiscated during the raid;
4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities, nationally and internationally, without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
On 14 May 2015, the Appeals Court in Bahrain rejected the appeal of human rights defender Mr Nabeel Rajab against his six-month prison sentence. The human rights defender is currently detained in Isa Town Police Station.
Nabeel Rajab had originally been arrested on 2 October 2014 and was granted bail pending trial on 2 November 2014, on the condition that he refrain from travelling. The charges were based on public statements he had made, in particular a tweet the human rights defender published on 28 September 2014.
Nabeel Rajab was arrested again on 2 April 2015 on separate charges of “insulting a statutory body” and “spreading rumours during a time of war”. The new charges are based on his work documenting torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison and on comments he reportedly made on Bahrain's involvement in the war in Yemen. The investigation remains open and, if the charges are confirmed, he faces up to ten years imprisonment.
Bahrain security forces arrested prominent human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) Nabeel Rajab from his home in Bani Jamra at approximately 4:00pm on 2 April 2015. Said Yousif al-Muhaftha, Vice President of BCHR, told Front Line Defenders that Rajab's arrest is related to tweets the activist posted about reports of ongoing torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison.
Rajab has been repeatedly arrested, detained, and imprisoned for his peaceful human rights work in Bahrain. In September 2014, he was arrested and charged with insulting the ministries of interior and defense - also in a tweet - when he called Bahrain's security institutions "the first ideological incubator" for radicalized citizens joining ISIS.
For that tweet, Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison and his legal representatives filed an appeal. On 15 March 2015, a Bahrain court postponed its verdict in the appeal case until 15 April.
At 3:54pm on 2 April 2015, Rajab tweeted (in both Arabic and English) that “special forces” had surrounded his home and were calling for him to “go out.” Minutes later, colleagues who had begun to operate his Twitter account, reported that “over 20 police cars” surrounded Rajab's home, and that the human rights defender had been arrested “for tweeting ab[ou]t torture in [Jaw] Prison.”
Videos uploaded by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights show Rajab reading aloud his arrest warrant – apparently issued from the “electronic crimes” unit of the Criminal Investigations Directorate – in front of security forces. In the video, Rajab reads aloud the charges, which relate to a series of tweets he posted regarding allegations of torture at Jaw Prison.
After reading aloud the charges, Rajab states that his most recent arrest "will not stop the struggle for democracy and cannot stop people from expressing their views."
"I am disappointed to see scores of policemen in front of my house, not arresting a criminal, but only someone who expressed their views."
He continued: "It shows that the situation [in Bahrain] is deteriorating from bad to worse. Of course, the struggle for democracy and human rights will not stop, and the struggle for justice in this country will not stop, and the struggle to stop human rights abuses will not stop, until [the abuses] stop. These people in front of me will not stop my work and will not stop my struggle for human rights and democracy.”
Front Line Defenders is concerned for the safety of Rajab, who is renowned for his willingness to speak out against violations of human rights both online and off. Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the persecution of legitimate human rights defenders in Bahrain.
On 2 November 2014, prominent human rights defender Mr Nabeel Rajab was released on bail by the Third Lower Criminal Court on the condition of a travel ban. He may face up to six years imprisonment for “insulting a public institution” via Twitter. A verdict on his case is due on 20 January 2015.
The judge initially decided not to impose travel restrictions on the human rights defender. However, this decision was reversed some hours later after the prosecution reportedly submitted evidence suggesting that Nabeel Rajab planned to leave the country.
On 1 October 2014, Nabeel Rajab was summoned by the General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department where he was interrogated on charges of “insulting a public institution” via Twitter, under article 216 of Bahrain’s penal code.
On 9 October 2014 Bahrain's Court of Public Prosecution in Manama ordered the continued detention of Mr Nabeel Rajaband his case was transferred to the Lower Criminal Court. His trial is due to begin on 19 October.
On 1 October, Nabeel Rajab was summoned by the General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department where he was interrogated on charges of “insulting a public institution” via Twitter.
On 2 October 2014 he faced the Public Prosecution, where it was decided that he be detained for 7 days pending investigation.
On 21 January 2013 a Manama court rejected the request for early release put forth on behalf of human rights defender Mr. Nabeel Rajab.
Nabeel Rajab has been in prison since May 2012 and was sentenced on 16 August 2012 for calling for illegal gatherings. This particular conviction came in the aftermath of the human rights defender's support of the so-called “Arab Spring” but Nabeel Rajab has also faced a long pattern of harassment which has included various forms of intimidation and arrest as a result of his peaceful work in the field of human rights.
In their request for early release the human rights defender's lawyers showed that Nabeel Rajab had fulfilled all the conditions for early release listed in the Bahraini criminal code: completing two thirds of the sentence, having demonstrable good conduct during detention, release not constituting a threat to national security and the duration already spent in detention being no less than 9 months.
By rejecting the request for early release the Bahraini courts are effectively continuing the pattern of judicial harassment to which Nabeel Rajab has been subjected, given that the criteria were all met. Nabeel Rajab's attorney intends to appeal the decision as there has been no explanation given to justify the court's stance.