Nabeel Rajab Trial Opens Sunday as U.S. Government Urges Bahrain to Drop Charges
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed the U.S. State Department’s call urging the Bahraini government to drop the charges against prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, whose trial opens on Sunday. Rajab is charged with insulting the ministries of defense and interior with a tweet he posted on September 28 saying that the Bahrain security institutions are “the first ideological incubator” for Bahrainis joining ISIS.
“Once again, Rajab faces prosecution for peacefully expressing his views,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “These attacks on human rights activists undermine Bahrain’s claims that it is reforming. The U.S. government has rightly called for the charges against Nabeel to be dropped and he should be immediately released.”
At the U.S. State Department briefing yesterday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said “An embassy official plans to attend [the trial]. As we consistently say around the world, we do not agree with prosecution of individuals for crimes of peaceful political expression. We continue to call on the government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to be fair – to have fair and transparent judicial proceedings, and we urge the government to drop the charges and resolve the case as expeditiously as possible.”
Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and has worked to expose U.S. ally Bahrain’s human rights violations for many years. He spent from mid-2012 to mid-2014 in prison after being convicted on trumped-up political charges.
Rajab’s tweet about ISIS has hit a nerve with the Bahraini authorities, as it came just days after news of a Sunni Bahraini security official leaving his job to join ISIS. Bahrain’s military and police are drawn almost exclusively from the Sunni sect, with the majority Shia population virtually shut out of the services. Rajab’s lawyer says if convicted he would face up to three years in prison.
Activist Zainab Al Khawaja is also currently in jail after being arrested this week when she tore up a picture of Bahrain’s king during a court hearing, and many other civil and political leaders – including medics – remain in prison in Bahrain following protests for democracy which began in 2011.
“Civil society figures like Nabeel Rajab, Zainab Al Khawja and many others belong out of jail and in a process to help Bahrain resolve its crisis. Keeping peaceful leaders in jail is the wrong move if Bahrain wants to calm its political unrest,” said Dooley.
Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to send observers to the trials of human rights activists and to state publicly whether proceedings meet international legal standards.