Bahrain: Sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab

20/01/2015
Urgent Appeal
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The Observatory has been informed about the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab.

New Information
BHR 001 / 0812 / OBS 048.12
Sentencing / Judicial harassment
Bahrain
January 20, 2015

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), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Bahrain.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the sentencing of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), FIDH Deputy Secretary General and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division.

On January 20, 2015, the Third Lower Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Nabeel Rajab to six months imprisonment on charges of “insulting public institutions and the army” via Twitter pursuant to Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code [1]. The charge concerns various tweets posted on Nabeel Rajab’s account, which the Public Prosecution has deemed as insulting to the Ministry of Interior and the Bahraini Defence Forces [2] (See background information).

Mr. Rajab’s lawyers paid a bail of 200 Bahraini dinars and will appeal the sentence tomorrow. Mr. Rajab will not be placed in detention pending the outcome of the appeal trial. According to the Criminal Procedures Code, sentences issued by lower criminal courts can be suspended with a bail posted, upon the agreement of the judge. However, the travel ban imposed against Mr. Rajab will remain in force pending the appeal. The date for the appeal should be announced in the coming days.

The Observatory condemns the sentence issued against Mr. Rajab, and calls on the Bahraini authorities to immediately drop all charges against him, as they are aimed to sanction his legitimate human rights activities.

The Observatory more generally urges the Bahraini authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Mr. Rajab, and to comply with the relevant international norms and standards, in particular the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Background information:

On July 9, 2012, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was arrested by masked police officers at his house [3] after he had tweeted the following on June 2: "Khalifa, leave the residents of Al Muharraq, its Sheikhs and its elderly. Everyone knows that you are not popular here, and if it wasn’t for the subsidies, they wouldn’t have gone out to welcome you. When will you step down?".

On the same day, the 5th Lower Criminal Court sentenced Mr. Rajab to three months imprisonment for allegedly libelling the residents of Al Muharraq through tweets posted on his twitter account. On August 23, 2012, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was acquitted by the Higher Appeal Court.

On August 16, 2012, the Lower Criminal Court had also sentenced Mr. Nabeel Rajab to three years imprisonment. Mr. Rajab appeared before the Court for three cases related to his participation in pacific gatherings in favour of fundamental freedoms and democracy:

- The first case relates to charges of “participating in an illegal assembly” and “calling others to join”, in relation to a protest organised on March 31, 2012 in Manama to denounce the detention of the founder of GCHR, former President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), and former MENA Director at Front Line, Mr. Abdulhadi Al Khawaja.

- The second one relates to on charges of “involvement in illegal practices and incitement to gatherings and calling for unauthorised marches through social networking sites” for a protest in Manama on January 12, 2012.

- The third one on relates to charges of “participating in an illegal assembly” in relation to several protests that took place in Manama in February 2012.

The Court thus sentenced Mr. Nabeel Rajab to one year imprisonment for each of these three cases.

In December 2012, the Appeals Court reduced the sentence to two years imprisonment. Mr. Nabeel Rajab completed his sentence and was released in June 2014.

On October 1, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was summoned by the General Directorate of Anti-corruption and Economic and Electronic Security of the Criminal Investigation Department on charge of “insulting a public institution” via Twitter. The investigation concerned tweets he published on Twitter, which the CID alleged were insulting the Ministry of Interior, pursuant to Article 216 of the Bahraini Penal Code. The CID decided to detain Mr. Rajab overnight before presenting him to the Public Prosecution on October 2 for further investigation. The Public Prosecution decided to keep Mr. Rajab under arrest for 7 days, pending further investigations.

On October 9, 2014, Mr. Nabeel Rajab was brought again before the Public Prosecution Officer in Manama and informed that the Ministry of Defence had filed a complaint regarding the same tweet, which is the subject matter of the previous investigation. The interrogation lasted about 40 minutes.

Mr. Rajab reiterated his previous position denying all allegations against him and stressing that he was only exercising his freedom of expression in regard to a matter forming part of a large public debate and an open discussion in the local press, social networks and even in Bahraini officials’ public statements.

The same day the Public Prosecution ordered the continued detention of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and decided to refer the case for trial before the Third Lower Criminal Court.

On October 19, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court started the trial against Mr. Nabeel Rajab. The hearing was suspended to October 29 and then November 2 for the verdict.

On November 2, 2014, the Third Lower Criminal Court Jaber Al Jazar ordered Mr. Rajab’s release but barred him from leaving the country. During the court hearing three representatives from foreign embassies and two representatives from NGOs were allowed to attend. Six relatives of Nabeel Rajab were not allowed in. At first, the judge decided to release Mr. Rajab without measures restricting his movement. But after a motion of the prosecution providing “evidence” that Mr. Rajab plans on travelling, the judge decided to keep him in probation and banned him from leaving the country before the next court hearing. Mr. Rajab and his lawyer were not shown the so-called “evidence” brought by the prosecution, and were not given the right to challenge this decision. The court announced that the verdict would be issued on January 20, 2015.

Actions requested

The Observatory urges the authorities of Bahrain to:

i. Put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and against all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

ii. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Nabeel Rajab and all human rights defenders in Bahrain;

iii. Drop all charges as they are aimed to sanction his legitimate human rights activities;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular:
- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels” ;
its Article 6 (c) which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” ;
and its Article 12.2 which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.

Addresses:
Cheikh Hamad bin Issa AL KHALIFA, King of Bahrain, Fax: +973 176 64 587
Cheikh Khaled Bin Ahmad AL KHALIFA, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tel: +973 172 27 555; Fax : +973 172 12 6032
Cheikh Khalid bin Ali AL KHALIFA, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, Tel: +973 175 31 333; Fax: +973 175 31 284
Lt. Gen. Cheikh Rashed bin Abdulla AL KHALIFA, Minister of Interior, Tel: +973 17572222 and +973 17390000. Email: info@interior.gov.bh
Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations in Geneva, 1 chemin Jacques-Attenville, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, CP 39, 1292 Chambésy, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 758 96 50. Email: info@bahrain-mission.ch

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Bahrain in your respective countries.

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