Paris-Geneva, September 12, 2012 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), sent a trial observation mission to Bahrain to observe the opening of the appeal in cases against Mr. Nabeel Rajab. It remains very concerned at the continuation of the policy of silencing and criminalising legitimate human rights activities.
On September 10, 2012, a Bahrain appeals court rejected the requests from the lawyers of Mr. Nabeel Rajab
, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, to release him on bail and scheduled the next hearing for September 27. During this hearing, Mr. Rajab’s lawyers also submitted a request to merge the charges of the three cases and another request to add to the case file a report stating that Mr. Rajab had been beaten by the police. On August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court had sentenced Nabeel Rajab, to three years’ imprisonment for three cases related to his participation in peaceful gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy. He has been detained since July 9, 2012 
The appeal proceedings are expected to resume on September 27 with the examination of evidence and witness testimonies related to the three criminal cases to be brought by both the Prosecutor and the Defense. Mr. Rajab’s lawyers challenged the fairness of the trial on the basis that defense evidence was not heard before the convictions were entered and the sentence issued. Meanwhile Mr. Rajab’s lawyers intend to file a petition for review, by the implementation judge, of the decision not to order provisional release.
On September 10, human rights blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja
also appeared in court. Ms. Al-Khawaja is currently in detention and 13 cases have been filed against her over the past months for her participation in those peaceful protests.
The trial observation mission was conducted by FIDH Vice President Katherine Gallagher, Senior Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR, USA). She had unimpeded access to the court room and could meet privately with Mr. Rajab at Jaw prison. She also met the Minister of Justice, the Human Rights Under Secretary, Nabeel Rajab’s family and lawyers, human rights defenders and diplomats.
While welcoming the cooperation of the Bahraini authorities during the mission,the Observatory recalls that the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, including by calling for reforms and denouncing human rights violations, is not a crime. Those rights constitute legitimate freedoms necessary in a democratic state. For this reason, it firmly condemns the continuing campaign to criminalise dissent and human rights defenders. The continuing repression of free speech in Bahrain violates Bahrain international legal obligations and urges the Bahraini authorities to comply with the rights to peaceful assembly and expression, and to immediately release those arbitrarily detained for exercising their legitimate freedoms.