Bahrain: Rights groups raise serious concerns over Nabeel Rajab’s appeal hearing following trial observation mission

Press release
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As the appeals trial in the case against prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab unfolds before the Court of Cassation, the NGO coalition that mandated an international trial observation mission in February demands Bahraini authorities release him immediately and unconditionally, as his detention conditions are putting his life at risk.

On 08 May 2018, the Court of Cassation, which has the final say in the case, postponed Nabeel Rajab’s case to 20 May 2018 for closing arguments.

On 21 February 2018, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to five years in prison for tweeting about rights violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and poor conditions in Bahrain’s Jaw prison. This is on top of a two-year sentence for media interviews upheld by the Court of Cassation on 15 January 2018. A trial observation mission mandated in February 2018 by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT), Front Line Defenders, English PEN, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) concluded that the trial proceedings in the twitter case were unfair, noting in particular that neither Nabeel Rajab nor his lawyer were allowed to speak during a two-minute sentence hearing.

The mission report, which looks at Nabeel Rajab’s trial process and its compliance with international human rights treaties, condemns his sentence and detention conditions, which are the latest illustration of the abusive tactics Bahrain’s authorities have been using for years to silence him. Nabeel Rajab’s health has been severely impacted by his detention conditions and the lack of medical care received.

The observer, an Irish Barrister-at-Law, commented that as a lawyer, she “found the experience both unusual and unsettling,” saying that the fact that someone could be sentenced to a five-year prison term without his legal team having uttered a single word in his defence was astonishing. The observer witnessed a significant military presence to the extent that court officials and indeed some lawyers seemed to be personally familiar with military officials, which raises concerns over the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. “As a lawyer it should be my right to be able to enter a court room and to observe the legal process of that jurisdiction. Whilst I was not prevented from doing so I did feel that my presence was not welcomed or appreciated either upon arrival at the airport or at the court buildings,” she concluded.

Behind the smokescreen of Bahrain’s flourishing economy, the Kingdom is hiding numerous rights violations and relentless efforts to silence those who are shedding light on these abuses - of which Nabeel Rajab’s sentence and detention conditions are a key example, states the report.

In view of these elements, our organisations urge the authorities of Bahrain to release Nabeel Rajab immediately and unconditionally, as his detention is arbitrary, and his prison conditions amount to ill-treatment and are endangering his life, as well as to guarantee in all circumstances his physical and psychological integrity and that of all human rights defenders in Bahrain.

The full report with recommendations is available in English and Arabic here:

Nabeel Rajab is BCHR’s President, GCHR Founding Director, FIDH Deputy Secretary General, and a member of the Human Rights Watch MENA Advisory Board. He has been imprisoned under particularly harsh conditions since his arrest on 13 June 2016.

Press contacts:

GCHR: Khalid Ibrahim - Tel: +961 70159552, or
FIDH: Maryna Chebat - Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57, or / Rabie Naim (Arabic) –
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau – Tel: +41 22 809 49 39, or

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