RSF calls for human rights defender’s release

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of leading Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who has been held since June and had to appear in court this week.

The head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab should have attended hearings on 23 January in two separate cases against him, one about a series of tweets in 2015 and the other about a series of TV interviews in 2014 and 2015. The hearings were instead rescheduled for 21 and 8 February respectively.

He was to have been released provisionally on 28 December as a result of a judicial decision in the first of the cases, about a series of tweets in 2015, but the prosecutor’s office kept him in prison by bringing a second case against him, this one about a series of TV interviews in 2014 and 2015.

We call for the immediate release of Nabeel Rajab, who is guilty only of exercising his right to freedom of expression and information by criticizing Bahrain’s government,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

The new proceedings against him reflect a desire to keep him in detention at all costs and to punish him for statements to the media which, according to the government, hurt the country’s international image. But convicting this citizen journalist is not going to clear Bahrain’s name.”

The original case against him concerns a series of tweets in 2015 criticizing the military intervention in Yemen and the use of torture in Bahrain’s Jaw prison. They led to his being charged with “spreading false rumours in time of war,” “insulting public authorities,” and “insulting a neighbouring country.” His lawyers say there is no proof that he was responsible for the tweets.

The second case concerns interviews about the human rights situation in Bahrain that he gave in 2014 and 2015 to local and regional media outlets such as Lualua TV, Al-Etejah TV and Al-Alam TV. For these interviews, he is facing a possible two-year jail sentence on charges of “disseminating rumours and false news.”

He is also being investigated in connection with letters published in the New York Times in September and Le Monde in December in which he criticized the Bahraini government’s policies.

Arrested many times in the pasts, Rajab was last released on 15 July 2015 under a royal pardon issued on health grounds. After being arrested again on 13 June 2016, he spent two weeks in solitary confinement. This and the other forms of mistreatment to which he has been subjected have exacerbated his health problems.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 02.02.2017