Amnesty Intl., EU parliament urge Bahrain to release rights activist Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab © Hamad Mohammed
Amnesty International and the European Parliament have independently called on Bahrain to free prominent human rights defender and activist Nabeel Rajab, insisting charges against him be dropped and calling his detention “a shameless attack” on free speech.

“Bahraini authorities must immediately release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and drop all charges against him,” Amnesty International said in its statement on Friday, denouncing what the organization called Bahrain’s “barefaced assault on freedom of expression.”

READ MORE: Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab hospitalized after 2 weeks in solitary confinement

It also called the trial of Rajab, scheduled for July 12, “farcical.”

“Parading a human rights defender like Nabeel Rajab in front of a court over tweets is a shameless attack on freedom of expression and is a further stain on Bahrain’s already appalling human rights record,” Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International, said, commenting on the issue.

Rajab was arrested on June 13 on separate charges of “spreading false information and rumors with the aim of discrediting the State” for tweeting and re-tweeting statements that criticized the actions of Bahrain’s forces in Yemen, where they joined the Saudi-led coalition in fighting the Shi’ite Houthi rebels.

In further tweets, Luther condemned alleged torture in Bahrain's primary prison.

“The Bahraini authorities’ decision to revisit these tweets from last year shows how desperate they are to muzzle their critics and stifle civil society,” Luther said. “They should drop these absurd charges, release Nabeel Rajab and other prisoners of conscience, and initiate a process of meaningful human rights reform.”

Meanwhile, the European Parliament also issued a separate statement, in which it called for "the immediate and unconditional release of the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab... and other human rights activists" and also for "all charges against them be dropped.”

The EU parliament also sharply criticized "the ongoing campaign of repression against human rights defenders, the political opposition and civil society, as well as the restriction of fundamental democratic rights in Bahrain."

Rajab was taken to hospital with heart problems in late June after spending more than two weeks in solitary confinement, his family said. He is a well-known human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). Rajab has repeatedly advocated freedom of expression and debate.

He has organized numerous protests against the Bahraini regime since 2011 and has been jailed on several occasions.

He was arrested for a tweet in which he criticized the government in 2012 and spent two years in prison. He was again sent to prison in 2014 for several months, also for criticizing the authorities on Twitter.

In 2015, he was jailed for six months for another tweet, in which he suggested that Bahraini security institutions could act as an "ideological incubator" for terrorism and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants. Later the same year, he was pardoned by the Bahraini king.

Bahrain has been repeatedly criticized for suppressing basic freedoms. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), the kingdom continues to imprison activists arbitrarily and subject them to torture.