Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was convicted on a charge of “spreading rumours and false information” in the interviews. Detained since June 2016, he was sentenced in absentia because he has been hospitalized since April with a back ailment.
“We condemn Nabeel Rajab’s unjustified conviction and demand his immediate release because his sole crime was to exercise his right to talk freely about human rights violations in his country,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
Rajab’s lawyers, Mohammed Al Jishi and Jaleel Al Sayed, had boycotted the trial since 14 June in protest against the fact that it was continuing despite Rajab’s inability to attend because of his hospitalization. They had requested an adjournment until he recovered. According to the information obtained by RSF, they are now planning to appeal.
Rajab has been the target of judicial harassment since 2011 and has been jailed many times since 2012. There is a great deal of concern about his state of health, which has been exacerbated by his long spells in detention and above all by the conditions in Bahrain’s prisons.
He was given a royal pardon and released for “health reasons” on 15 July 2015 but was arrested again on 13 June 2016 and has been held ever since. He currently has complications resulting from an operation to a haemorrhagic ulcer in his back in April.
He is meanwhile also being prosecuted in connection with tweets criticizing the Arab military intervention in Yemen (deemed to have insulted the armed forces) and the conditions and use of torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison. The next hearing in this case is scheduled for 7 August.
14 journalists and citizen journalists are currently being detained in the Kingdom of Bahrain according to RSF 's barometer. The regime has been cracking down hard on dissent ever since a wave of protests in 2011 and the last independent print newspaper, Al Wasat, was closed down arbitrarily a month ago.
Bahrain is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.