GENEVA – Three United Nations human rights experts, including Maina Kiai, today call on the Bahraini authorities to drop all charges the prominent Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, who was released from prison earlier this week for health reasons. While welcoming Mr. Rajab’s release, the experts called it “only a half measure, given that the he is still facing charges that carry up to fifteen years of imprisonment.”
Mr. Rajab, who is the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was jailed in October 2014 in connection with statements made on his Twitter account and was initially charged for ‘publicly insulting official institutions.’ This was only months after he had completed a two-year prison sentence after calling for and participating in peaceful demonstrations.
Despite his recent release, Mr.Rajab’s pending charges include ‘disseminating false rumours in the time of war,’ ‘insulting public officials’ and ‘disseminating false news causing damage to the public security.’
“Criminalizing, prosecuting and imprisoning human rights defenders for carrying out their vital human rights work and enriching public debate are unacceptable under international law,” the experts stressed. “Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of retaliation or imprisonment.”
“We call for the immediate release of all Bahraini activists, as well as political dissidents, detained for peaceful exercise of their rights,” said the the experts, who have expressed serious concerns on a number of occasions to the Bahraini Government concerning the harassment of civil society and political activists in the country.
The UN experts continue to urge the authorities to review domestic laws and practices to ensure compliance with Bahrain’s obligations under human rights law, in particular the freedoms of expression and association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty.
(*) The UN experts: Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.