Bahrain: Release activist facing three years in jail for ‘insulting’ tweets

Bahrain’s authorities must immediately release Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist who has been detained over tweets he posted that were deemed insulting to the Ministries of Interior and Defence said Amnesty International, ahead of a verdict in his case on Wednesday. “Convicting Nabeel Rajab would be a terrible injustice. It would only be further proof that respect for the right to freedom of expression in Bahrain is under attack,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “Prosecuting anyone merely for peacefully expressing their political views is a clear form of repression and a brazen violation of their rights. Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience, he must be released immediately and the charges against him must be dropped. “Since the 2011 uprisings the government has repeatedly reassured the international community that Bahrain is on the path to reform but the arrest of Nabeel Rajab shows that promises of greater freedoms remain a distant hope. The outcome of his trial on Wednesday will be a true test of the authorities’ genuine commitment to human rights.” Nabeel Rajab is the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and the Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.  He was arrested in October after posting comments online about reports that members of Bahrain’s security forces had joined the Islamic State armed group in Iraq. He has been charged with “publicly insulting official institutions” and faces up to three years in jail. Bahraini legislation criminalizes insulting or disrespecting heads of state, public figures, the military, government institutions or national flags or symbols. During the first hearing in his case on 19 October Nabeel Rajab explained that he was merely exercizing his right to freedom of expression and as a human rights activist would only ever do so peacefully. He denied the charges against him and said he had not committed any crime. Only his older brother was allowed to attend the court session, the rest of his family was denied entry. He has been detained at al Hoora police station since his arrest. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal articles in its Penal Code that criminalize freedom of expression but so far these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Shortly after his arrest, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for Nabeel Rajab’s release. Only the governments of Norway and the USA have so far publicly demanded his release. “The silence of the international community over human rights violations in Bahrain is deafening. Governments with close ties to Bahrain, in particular the UK, and who claim to be pushing a human rights reform agenda must speak out publicly and denounce the arrest of Nabeel Rajab and other government critics,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. Background Nabeel Rajab returned to Bahrain on 30 September after a two month advocacy tour across Europe to highlight the human rights situation in Bahrain.  He had previously served a two-year prison sentence in Jaw Prison on charges of  participating in an “illegal gathering”, “disturbing public order” and “calling for and taking part in demonstrations” in Manama “without prior notification”. He was released in May 2014. Other activists in Bahrain have faced prosecution for exercizing the right to freedom of expression. Activist Nader Abdulemam was sentenced to six months in prison last Wednesday for ‘insulting’ a figure of worship after he made comments on twitter about Khaled bin al-Waleed, a companion of the prophet Muhammad. Human rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, who is heavily pregnant, was arrested on 14 October for tearing a picture of the King of Bahrain in court and is currently under arrest and on trial for “publicly insulting the King”. Similarly, Ghada Jamsheer, a women’s rights activist, is facing trial for comments she made on twitter denouncing corruption in King Hamad University Hospital. Amnesty International has been calling on the Bahraini authorities to drop charges in all these cases and release these activists as they are held merely for peacefully expressing their opinion.