Paris-Geneva, January 10, 2014
Re: Call for the immediate implementation of the United Nations Opinion on Nabeel Rajab’s case
FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, call upon the highest authorities of Bahrain to guarantee without any further delay the release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH.
Mr. Nabeel Rajab has been detained at the central prison in Jaw since July 9, 2012. Initially sentenced to three-months’ imprisonment for having “insulted statutory bodies” in a Twitter message, he was later sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on August 16, 2012, while still in detention. Mr. Rajab was sentenced on two others protest-related charges: participation in “illegal gatherings” and calling for manifestation without prior notification in Manama, as well as incitement to gatherings and “illegal marches” through social medias. In December 2012, his sentence was reduced to two years in appeal.
The detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab was characterised as arbitrary by the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) at its 66th session. This decision, published on July 25, 2013, follows a communication addressed by the Observatory on August 31, 2012 to challenge the legality of Mr. Rajab’s detention. In its Opinion A/HRC/WGAD/2013/12, the WGAD considered that the detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab contravenes articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and articles 9, paragraph 1, 14, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Bahrain acceded to the ICCPR in 2006; it is thus legally binding on the country. Article 9 of the ICCPR enshrines the rights not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained and to be informed of charges. Article 14 guarantees the right to a prompt and fair trial. Article 19 protects the right to freedom of expression, Article 21 the right to peaceful assembly and Article 22 the right to freedom of association. The peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of opinion, expression and association is legitimate and necessary in any democratic society.
The right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 14, includes access to counsel, production of evidence and defence witnesses. Since Mr. Rajab’s arrest on May 5, 2012, a number of court hearings have taken place where these rights have been partially respected, including denial of timely facilitation for foreign witnesses to attend the hearing as well as showing video evidence in camera. The WGAD added that the courts of Bahrain would have to “confront and rule on the matter of the legality of the law banning public demonstrations”, and that “denial of a universally accepted human right to freedom of opinion and expression cannot be condoned by a domestic court, as seen in the case of Mr. Rajab”.
The Working Group requested the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain to take necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Rajab and bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ICCPR. The adequate remedy would be to immediately release Mr. Rajab and to accord him an enforceable right to compensation in accordance with article 9, paragraph 5, of the ICCPR. The WGAD also encouraged the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain to bring its domestic laws into conformity with the substantive provisions of the Covenant to which it is a party.
Thereafter, on December 2, 2013, the Bahraini Court of Appeals examined the request filed by Mr. Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers for an early release and decided not to grant such release without providing any grounds. A representative from the United States Embassy was even prevented from observing this court hearing. Previously, on November 24, a penalty enforcement judge had issued the same decision. During the session, Mr. Rajab’s lawyers presented their arguments that Mr. Nabeel Rajab was eligible for early release in pursuance to the conditions laid under article 349 of the Criminal Procedural Code, which sets three conditions: that ¾ of the sentence has been served, good behaviour during detention and not being a threat to public security.
The proceedings failed to comply with the right to a fair trial as the court failed to properly examine the request for early release, failed to provide grounds for its decision and did not guarantee the public nature of the hearing. This decision blatantly contradicts WGAD’s Opinion and suggests that the Bahraini judiciary does not care not only about conforming to international human rights standards but also about implementing domestic law in full independence.
Our organisations deeply regret the court’s refusal to grant an early release to Mr. Rajab, and deplore the judge’s decision that failed to provide any grounds. We consider this decision as an attempt to curtail Mr. Rajab’s activities as a human rights defender.
Mr. Rajab’s ongoing detention is arbitrary as it results from the exercise of his universally recognised human rights and as his right to a fair trial has not been guaranteed.
Our organisations therefore call upon the Bahraini authorities to immediately comply with the UN WGAD’s decision and release Mr. Rajab immediately and unconditionally.
We more generally urge the Bahraini authorities to adhere to their international human rights obligations under the ICCPR and bring domestic law in conformity with international human rights instruments ratified by the country.
We express our sincere hope that you will take these considerations and requests into account.
Karim Lahidji Gerald Staberock
President of FIDH Secretary General of OMCT