(Beirut) – Bahrain’s allies including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and other European countries should publicly call on Manama to drop charges against the human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab, Human Rights Watch and the Gulf Center for Human Rights said today. Rajab could face up to six years in prison if convicted over a Twitter posting that allegedly “insulted state institutions.” A court ruling is expected on January 20, 2015.
The two groups were among 16 international rights organizations that sent a letter to British and European foreign ministry officials calling on them to urge Bahraini authorities to drop the prosecution of Rajab on these charges. British, German, and other European officials have confined their public statements to calling for a fair trial and due process. A US State Department spokesperson on October 16, 2014 called on Bahrain to drop the charges, and on October 20 urged Bahraini authorities to free Rajab. He was freed on bail on November 2.
“This is an open-and-shut freedom of expression case,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Due process is not the issue here – Nabeel Rajab should never have been charged in the first place.”
Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a founder of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East division’s advisory committee.
Authorities arrested Rajab on October 1 following a message on his Twitter account that said, “Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.” Authorities claimed this “insulted” the Ministries of Defense and Interior. Article 216 of the country’s penal code authorizes imprisonment for anyone who “offends by any method of expression the National Assembly or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies.”
The UN Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, issued an authoritative interpretation on the scope of the right to freedom of expression and opinion. In its General Comment 34, the committee stated that, “In circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.” It also stated that “states parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”
“It’s true that due process is a serious concern whenever one is speaking of Bahrain’s justice system, but Nabeel Rajab faces jail solely for exercising his right to free speech,” said Khalid Ibrahim, director of programs at the Gulf Center for Human Rights. “All those governments that are proclaiming their dedication to free expression should be making clear to Bahrain that Nabeel should not be jailed.”