Bahraini authorities must immediately release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him ahead of his trial next week over Twitter posts criticizing the war in Yemen and allegations of torture in Bahrain’s main prison, Amnesty International said today, reiterating its call on the government to end its barefaced assault on freedom of expression.
The European Parliament also called for Nabeel Rajab’s immediate and unconditional release today in an urgent resolution that expressed grave concern over the ongoing campaign of repression of human rights defenders, political opposition and civil society. Bahrain has witnessed a month of intensified clampdown on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement.
“Parading a human rights defender like Nabeel Rajab in front of a court over tweets is a shameless attack on freedom of expression and is a further stain on Bahrain’s already appalling human rights record,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
“The government must halt this brazen crackdown on freedom of expression and accept that everyone in Bahrain has the right to peacefully voice their opinions, including through social media.”
Nabeel Rajab’s court hearing is scheduled for 12 July and he faces up to 13 years’ imprisonment for tweeting and retweeting statements in 2015 criticizing the conduct of Bahrain’s security forces at a prison and for its part in the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in the Yemen conflict.
As he awaits his trial, Nabeel Rajab has been isolated from other detainees and kept in a filthy cell since 13 June, when he was arrested on separate charges of “spreading false information and rumours with the aim of discrediting the State”.
“The Bahraini authorities’ decision to revisit these tweets from last year shows how desperate they are to muzzle their critics and stifle civil society,” Philip Luther said.
“They should drop these absurd charges, release Nabeel Rajab and other prisoners of conscience, and initiate a process of meaningful human rights reform.”
Nabeel Rajab has been banned from travelling outside Bahrain since last year, a measure used against other dissenting voices in the country. In June alone, 13 people – including journalists, human rights defenders and former prisoners of conscience – were prevented from leaving Bahrain. Some of them were travelling to participate in a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.
There are also growing concerns over Nabeel Rajab’s deteriorating health. He has been taken to two hospitals for an irregular heartbeat since his detention and at the time of arrest, was waiting to schedule two operations related to other medical conditions. He has been in and out of jail since 2012 on charges related to his peaceful human rights activism. He was released from jail last year because of his failing health after serving half of his six-month sentence stemming from an earlier conviction, also related to comments posted on Twitter.