Bahrain: Six month sentence for Nabeel Rajab blow to freedom of expression

The Bahraini authorities must quash the conviction of prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, who has today been sentenced to six months in prison for posting comments online which were considered insulting to the Ministries of Interior and Defence, Amnesty International said.

“Nabeel Rajab is being unjustly punished simply for posting tweets deemed insulting to the authorities. His conviction is a blow to freedom of expression – it must be quashed. He should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

Ahead of today’s verdict Nabeel Rajab told Amnesty International:

“The unjust and relentless targeting of myself by the authorities provides just one example of what many other human rights defenders from across the Gulf region are subjected to. We are not only the victims of the repression of our own governments but also the victims of the silence, hypocrisy and double standards of the international community. Our people, who are hungry for freedom and social justice, are being forced to pay the price.”

Nabeel Rajab was ordered to pay a fine of 200 Bahraini Dinars to remain on bail pending his appeal trial. The court also maintained his travel ban.

On Monday 19 January the Public Prosecution referred Sheikh ‘Ali Salman, leader of the main opposition group, Al-Wefaq, for trial on charges of “promoting the overthrow and change of the political system by force and threat,” “inciting non-compliance with the law” and “publicly inciting hatred against a segment of the population”. His trial is scheduled for 28 January.

Sheikh ‘Ali Salman was arrested over statements made in his speeches in 2012 and 2014, including most recently at the party’s General Assembly meeting on 26 December last year. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

The organization has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to repeal laws that prohibit insults or the disrespect of heads of state, public figures, the military, government institutions, flags or symbols as they are contrary to international law and standards.

“Instead of persecuting activists who dare to speak out freely the Bahraini authorities should repeal these repressive laws and uphold the right to freedom of expression,” said Said Boumedouha.

Nabeel Rajab was freed on bail on 2 November 2014 after having spent a month in detention following his interrogation and arrest in October.

He had been arrested after he tweeted about reports that members of Bahrain’s security forces had joined the Islamic State armed group in Iraq. One tweet read: “Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”