Bahrain and suppression of government critics, Nabeel Rajab

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Publish Date : 01/08/2019 13:12
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The arrest, detention and imprisonment of individuals for the exercise of their fundamental human rights is in violation of Bahrain’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has ratified. We urge the Government of Bahrain to stop criminalising dissenting voices.

Nabeel Ahmed Abdulrasool Rajab is a Bahraini human rights activist and opposition leader. Rajab is also a prominent international human rights activist. He is a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Division, Deputy Secretary General for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), former chairman of CARAM Asia, member of the Advisory Board of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), and Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

He is known for his pioneering use of social networking as an important element in human rights campaigning which has brought him into conflict with the authorities.
Rajab started his human rights activity during the 1990s uprising before going on to become involved in campaigning on behalf of migrant workers in GCC countries. During the Bahraini uprising, in which he led numerous protests, he has clashed with the political authorities and security forces. As well as criticizing the Bahraini government itself, he has also been sharply critical of the role of Bahrain's allies, including the United States. He also criticised Saudi Arabia's role in the war in Yemen.

Following protests in April 2012 that attracted media attention, Rajab was arrested and incarcerated several times. On 9 July, he was detained and sentenced to three months prison for having "insulted Bahrainis" in a Twitter message and most recently on 16 August, while still in detention, Rajab was sentenced to three years' imprisonment on three protest-related charges. The verdict has drawn criticism from Bahrain's western allies and human rights organizations. In December, 2012, the sentence was reduced to 2 years in prison after appeal. In December 2013, a court denied him early release. He was released on 24 May 2014, after serving 2 years in prison. He was re-arrested on 1 October over criticizing the government on Twitter. On 2 November he was released on bail, pending his next trial on 20 January 2015. Rajab said he was targeted because of his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy and that he does not have any regrets for doing so. On 10 July 2015, King Hamad issued a royal decree granting Rajab, who was sentenced to six months, a special pardon, Bahrain News Agency reported.

On 13 June 2016, he was arrested in an early morning raid on his home, according to his family without saying any reasons. On 10 July 2107, he was sentenced to two years in jail by a Bahraini court after finding him guilty of "disseminating false news, statements and rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status", according to a judicial source.

On 21 February 2018, Rajab was sentenced by the High Criminal Court of Bahrain to a further five years in jail for tweets and documentation of human rights violations. The first charge was for "offending national institutions" in connection to his documentation of mistreatment and torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison in March 2015. The second charge of "spreading rumors during wartime" related to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of the conflict. He was also charged under the Bahrain penal code with "offending a foreign country" (Saudi Arabia). Amnesty International said “The shameful verdict is a travesty of justice. The decision to uphold Nabeel Rajab’s conviction and five-year sentence simply for posting tweets expressing his opinions, exposes Bahrain’s justice system as a complete farce. His treatment by the Bahraini authorities is completely unacceptable.”

Recently, the United Nations human rights office has condemned the latest verdict on Nabeel Rajab as "continued suppression of government critics," urging Bahrain to release the prominent human rights activist. The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said:

“We call on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and to ensure that all Bahrainis are able to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression without fear of arbitrary detention.
Rajab has been imprisoned since June 2016 for tweeting in 2015 about Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes in Yemen and allegations of torture inside Bahrain’s Jau Prison. One such tweet read as follows: “We have the right to say no to the war in #Yemen and should struggle for peace and security but not bloodshed #Sanaa.” On Monday this week, Bahrain’s highest court – the Court of Cassation – upheld Rajab’s conviction and five-year prison sentence on charges of "spreading false news and rumours in time of war", "insulting foreign countries" and "insulting publicly the interior ministry". The UN Working Group of Arbitrary Detention had last year declared Rajab’s detention to be arbitrary.
Monday’s court decision brings into focus the continued suppression of Government critics in Bahrain through arbitrary arrest and detention, travel bans, harassment, threats, revocation of citizenship and other means. There have been numerous reports of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and opposition figures being targeted for the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The UN Secretary-General’s report on reprisals in September 2018 highlighted several specific cases where civil society activists and their families in Bahrain suffered reprisals for seeking to engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council. In some of the cases, the activists were accused of terrorism-related offences.
The arrest, detention and imprisonment of individuals for the exercise of their fundamental human rights is in violation of Bahrain’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has ratified. We urge the Government of Bahrain to stop criminalising dissenting voices.”




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