Bahraini Human Rights Defender Nabeel Rajab Sentenced to Six Months in Prison
Washington, D.C. – In response to today’s Bahraini court decision sentencing human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to six months in prison on charges of insulting the government of Bahrain on Twitter, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley issued the following statement:
“Those of us who have followed Bahrain closely for years have warned about this for some time – that despite the government’s assurances to be on the path to reform it was moving to a zero tolerance policy on peaceful criticism.
“Nabeel’s sentence today and next week’s trial of opposition leader Ali Salman mark the start of a new dangerous phase in Bahraini politics where previously tolerated voices are to be silenced.
“The question now is how Bahrain’s western backers, primarily the United States, will respond to this. Will Washington finally use its influence to try and stop this political disaster or continue to watch and issue ineffectual statements of disapproval?”
Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in September and charged with insulting the ministries of defense and interior with a tweet he posted saying that the Bahrain security institutions are “the first ideological incubator” for Bahrainis joining ISIS. Rajab will have an opportunity to appeal today’s decision and, following the payment of a fine, is not due to be jailed until after his appeal hearing.
On January 28, the trial will open against Bahraini opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, charged with various offenses including “promoting political change using illegal forceful means and threats.” Since the November elections, which were overwhelmingly won by pro-government candidates in the face of an opposition boycott, the Bahraini government has moved steadily and forcefully against its peaceful critics. Most of Bahrain’s leading civil society and opposition figures are in exile or in prison. Human Rights First urges the Bahraini government to immediately drop the charges against both Ali Salman and Nabeel Rajab and to release Salman from custody.
While the United States has put some arms transfers on hold since 2011 and the State Department has called for the charges against Rajab to be dropped, there have been no new measures announced in response to the regime’s increasingly harder line on dissent. Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to publicly state how it plans to react to the ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent in Bahrain.