This week Saudi Arabia and its allies in Geneva are blustering and threatening other countries to try to defeat a UN Human Rights Council resolution that would set up an independent investigation into war crimes by all parties – including the Saudi-led military coalition – in Yemen.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain –Saudi Arabia’s neighbor and part of the coalition bombing Yemen – a court on Wednesday postponed the trial of the country’s preeminent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab. This was at least the 16th delay. Rajab has been in jail since June 2016 and faces up to 18 years in prison for speech crimes, in his case tweets and media comments critical of his government.
Rajab’s “offenses” include a March 26, 2015 tweet – the day the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen – asserting that “wars bring hatred, destruction, and horrors,” along with graphic images purporting to portray the results of the bombing.
Since then, the horrors in Yemen have only mounted. The UN reported in late September that it had verified the deaths of at least 5,159 civilians, with 8,761 wounded, adding that “[t]he actual numbers are likely to be far higher.” Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition continue to be the “leading cause of civilian casualties, including of children,” according to the UN. Additionally, some 7 million people are on the brink of famine thanks in large part to the coalition’s blockade and restrictions on fuel and food imports.
Bahraini authorities first arrested Rajab in the “tweets” case in April 2015. Since then, he was released and then re-arrested for this “crime” and once for media interviews he gave in 2014 and 2015. This past July 10, a court sentenced him to two years in prison on those charges, “for disseminating false news, statements and rumors about the internal situation in the kingdom that would undermine its prestige and status.” In his appeal hearing on September 28 regarding that conviction, the court postponed the hearing to October 25.
As for the UN Human Rights Council, it should create the international inquiry into Yemen abuses that countless activists like Rajab are calling for. It should also make crystal clear to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries that those who speak out on human rights violations should be protected, not locked away.