Global Reaction to sentencing of Nabeel Rajab

UPDATE (23:56 GMT) Statement from Bahrain’s opposition societies:

Bahrain Opposition Societies:

“Jail sentence of Nabeel Rajab is against international principles of human rights”

Thursday 16th August 2012.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Bahrain’s opposition societies said that the 3-year sentence given to human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, President of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, for “unauthorised” protest, is a part of the regimes targeting of political and human rights activists.

The opposition express their strong dismay towards these attacks that violate the universal declaration of human rights as well as international political and social convents that guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly.

The opposition societies said that the regimes legislations, which restrict freedom of expression, must be replaced with ones that guarantee human rights and agree with international treaties and conventions signed by the government. Current legislations are only a similar alternative to the former state-security law.

The statement called for attention to be brought on the serious danger of the regimes revenge and targeting of human rights activists through laws that themselves violate human rights. The opposition also emphasized on the necessity of reforming the judiciary, as mentioned in the BICI report. They consider this to be an issue of utmost importance and give it priority in the future formation of any elected government, by the will of the people.

The opposition societies call for the regime to release HRD Nabeel Rajab immediately and all other political hostages, without conditions or restrictions. They should know that repression through law and security would not end the movement of the people. They added that there is an urgent need to end the tyranny of the system and to establish democracy to represent the aspirations of all components of Bahraini society.

UPDATE (23.36 GMT) Please check out our media roundup of all articles on the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab from yesterday

UPDATE (22.17 GMT) Human Rights Watch slam sentencing of Nabeel Rajab

Bahraini authorities should immediately release the human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and overturn his conviction for organizing and participating in “illegal” demonstrations. His conviction is a violation of his right to freedom of assembly. Rajab is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a member of the advisory committee of the Human Rights Watch Middle East Division.

Rajab was sentenced on August 16, 2012, to three years in prison for his involvement in three demonstrations between January and March 2012. Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the judge issued the sentence before they could get to the hearing from a hearing in another case involving Rajab in another court. Rajab was taken to prison before he was able to meet with lawyers or his wife and children.

“This ruling shows that Bahrain’s rulers are committed to a policy of comprehensive repression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of releasing people jailed for peaceful dissent, it seems determined to lock up even more people who try to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free expression.”


UPDATE (21.44 GMT) IFEX statement on sentencing of Nabeel Rajab. “Deplorable”.

IFEX, the world’s largest network of free expression organisations, strongly denounces the three-year prison sentence handed down today to Nabeel Rajab, president of IFEX member Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), for his role in pro-democracy protests.

“By sentencing Nabeel to prison, the Bahrain government is sending a strong message to the world that it doesn’t care about human rights. With this decision the Kingdom’s international reputation remains at stake,” said Annie Game, IFEX executive director.

“Jailing the most prominent rights defender in the country is a disturbing sign for others who refuse to be silent on Bahrain’s human rights record,” added Game.

IFEX joins Rajab’s family and rights groups, such as BCHRthe Gulf Centre for Human RightsIndex on CensorshipElectronic Frontier Foundationthe Arabic Network for Human Rights InformationHuman Rights FirstAmnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights, in calling for the immediate release of Rajab, as well as for the Bahrain government to implement reforms promised after the 14 February 2011 crackdown.

UPDATE (21.22 GMT) Tweet from UK Foreign Office

UK expresses concern at length of sentence handed down to #Bahraini opposition activist Nabeel Rajab
Human Rights at FCO

UPDATE (21.11 GMT) Our understanding of comments given by US State Department Spokeswoman. This was provided to BJDM by the State Department Press Office. The final version should be online soon

QUESTION:  Do you want him released?

Ms. NULAND:  We have said that we think that this is an inappropriate case to begin with.


QUESTION:  Right.  But are you telling the Bahrainis that you think he should be released?

MS. NULAND:  I don’t think that we are now that the sentence has come down.  We’re not getting in the middle of that.  We’ve said from the beginning that we thought that this case shouldn’t have gone forward.

QUESTION:  Well, I understand that.  But it is appropriate while the case is still pending for you to be calling for him to be released, but once —

MS. NULAND:  This case he’s – this case he has now been sentenced —

QUESTION:  I understand that.

MS. NULAND:  — and the other case hasn’t – hasn’t come forward.

QUESTION:  But since you think that it’s inappropriate and shouldn’t have —

MS. NULAND:  Well, obviously, we think —

QUESTION:  — you certainly want him freed?

MS. NULAND:  Obviously, we think that this should be vacated.


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UPDATE (21.01 GMT) UK Foreign Office expresses concern at lengthy sentence handed to Nabeel Rajab

A Bahraini court today sentenced Mr Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, to three years in prison for inciting and taking part in illegal rallies and demonstrations.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said:

“We are concerned at the length of sentence handed down to Mr Nabeel Rajab for charges relating to comments made on social networking sites and for incitement of illegal rallies. We urge the Bahraini Government to act proportionately in all cases. The right of individuals to peaceful protest and freedom of expression is a fundamental part of any modern democracy and must be respected. But we expect opposition activists to ensure their words and actions do not incite violence or other illegal acts.”

UPDATE (18:46 GMT) AFP: US ‘Deeply Troubled’ by sentence given to Nabeel Rajab

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the US embassy contacted Bahraini authorities to voice concern over the jail term given to Nabeel Rajab for “unauthorized” protests against the Sunni monarchy.

“We are deeply troubled by the sentencing,” Nuland told reporters.

“We believe that all people have a fundamental freedom to participate in civil acts of peaceful disobedience,” she said.

“We call on the government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a really meaningful dialogue with the political opposition and civil society because actions like this sentencing today only serve to further divide Bahraini society,” she said.

UPDATE (17:52 GMT) Dutch Radio station quotes US State Department as being deeply concerned by sentence of Nabeel Rajab 

State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said the United States was “deeply troubled” by the jail sentence, warning that such actions “only serve to further divide Bahraini society.”

UPDATE (17:36 GMT) French Diplomatic Department answer question on Nabeel Rajab

Q. – And your reaction to the sentence of three years in prison in Bahrain for the activist Nabil Rajab?

A – We have reviewed the conviction of Mr. Rajab.

We reiterate our commitment to the principle of freedom of expression and encourage dialogue to allay tensions in Bahrain permanently

UPDATE (17:29 GMT) EU High Representative Catherine Ashton ‘notes with concern’ the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab.

“High Representative Catherine Ashton has noted with concern the sentencing of Mr Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison for taking part in unauthorised protests in Bahrain.

The High Representative expects that this sentence in Mr Rajab’s case will be reconsidered in the appeal process and that the same treatment will be given to all Bahraini citizens who are being tried for charges relating to the exercise of their fundamental freedoms. Fair and impartial justice is a key requirement to overcome the current challenges in Bahrain.

The High Representative urges all components of Bahraini society to contribute to dialogue and national reconciliation in a peaceful and constructive manner, without further delays.”

The world has reacted in shock and dismay at the sentencing of Nabeel Rajab to 3 years in prison. The news of his surprise sentence began to hit Twitter earlier this morning:

Because HRD @ used his right to expression, he was today sentenced to 3 years in prison!! #Bahrain #FreeNabeelRajab
Nabeel Rajab
SHOCKING news @ President of the #Bahrain Center for Human Rights just been sentenced to 3 years in prison!
Jamila Hanan
Now: Jailed a prominent activist @ 3 years #Bahrain #BYSHR
Mohammed Al-Maskati

With the news beginning to break news agencies began to report on the story. For the Associated Press Reem Khalifa spoke about the likely repercussions for Bahrain with this sentencing:

The unexpectedly harsh sentence against Nabeel Rajab is likely to raise questions about the Western-backed Sunni monarchy’s commitment to reform, and embolden anti-government protesters who have been demonstrating for the past 18 months, calling for greater rights in this Gulf island kingdom that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet.

AFP spoke with Rajab’s lawyer, as did Reuters who said:

“It is a very stiff and unexpected ruling, I am surprised. They are peaceful protests, not violent ones,” Jishi said.

Others found guilty in similar cases, he said, were sentenced to a maximum of six months in jail and some were freed on bail.”

As the news came in human rights organisations around the world expressed their outrage. UK based Amnesty International called it a dark day for justice in Bahrain:

“The court’s decision is a dark day for justice in Bahrain that further questions the independence of the judiciary.”

“Like many others in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly. He should be released immediately and his convictions and sentences quashed. The authorities must also act to ensure that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without fear of reprisal.”

“If anything, this latest verdict marks the end of the facade of reform in Bahrain. The international community can no longer be under the illusion that Bahrain is on the path of reform when confronted with such blatant ruthless tactics of suppressing dissenting voices. Bahrain’s international partners need to make this loud and clear to the Bahraini authorities”

Human Rights First described the sentence as “stunning” expressing their deep shock at the harshness of the sentence:

“In an astonishing move this morning, the Bahrain authorities sentenced prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab to three years in jail for his part in “illegal gatherings.”

“Even those of us who have followed Bahrain’s violent crackdown on human rights are shocked by today’s move,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. “It’s a breathtakingly bad decision, showing that the regime’s rhetoric about reform and reconciliation is a sham.  The charges are patently politically-motivated, and designed to silence him. He has consistently called for protests to be peaceful, and there is no justification for his jailing.””

Head of the Organisation Brian Dooley tweeted:

#Bahrain regime: This is your plan for reform & reconciliation? Jailing #NabeelRajab until 2015?@ @ @
Brian Dooley

Meanwhile the organisation Rajab helped to found, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, released this statement, whilst The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)) said:

“The Observatory strongly denounces the terms of imprisonment issued against Mr. Nabeel Rajab and is extremely concerned about the ongoing judicial harassment against him.

The Observatory therefore urgently calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Rajab, as such judicial harassment and ongoing arbitrary detention seem to merely aim at stifling his legitimate use of the right to freedom of expression and at hindering his human rights activities.

More generally, the Observatory once again urges the Bahraini authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Mr. Rajab, and to comply with the relevant international norms and standards, in particular the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, and international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bahrain.”

Frontline Defenders released this statement, and Index on Censorship, by whom Rajab was awarded just a few months ago said:

“Index on Censorship condemns the sentencing in Bahrain today of human rights defender and Index award winner Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison for charges related to “illegal gathering”.

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, said:

“We strongly condemn the imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab for speaking out against human rights violations. It shows the lengths Bahrain’s government will go to silence activists — and exposes their token statements in favour of reform as phoney. Index calls for the immediate release of Rajab, and for the Bahrain government to respect fully universal human rights, and to implement a serious reform process as promised since last year.”

A statement from US based group Freedom House said that the sentencing proves the urgent need for political reform:

Freedom House denounces the sentencing of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to three years imprisonment in Bahrain on trumped up charges. This harsh sentence is clear evidence of the failure of the government to follow through on promised political reforms and a reflection of the ongoing repressive environment for those that oppose the regime. Freedom House calls on Bahraini authorities to immediately release and drop all charges against him, and to implement reforms to secure freedom of expression without fear of harm or prosecution.

On twitter various people around the world were quick to voice their opinions:

Let's be clear, lack of international action over @ gave #Bahrain green light to savagely sentence him to 3 years for protesting
Dominic Kavakeb
"Jail me 3 years or 30, I will never give up." - @ quoting his father @ in today's trial #Bahrain
Mona Kareem
No pretense of reform when #Bahrain sentences rights activist @ to 3 years. West should act on this outrage.
Kenneth Roth

BBC News, The Telegraph and The Guardian each wrote pieces along with many others around the world. The London based International Business Times wrote:

A Bahraini court has sentenced prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to three years in prison, for three separate cases of inciting and participating in protests against the Sunni Al-Khalifa monarchy.

Rajab’s attorney, Mohammed al-Jishi, told reporters that each of the three cases carried a one-year jail term. Al-Jishi added that his client, currently head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, plans to contest the sentence.

Following the trial, Rajab’s son, Adam Nabeel Rajab, used Twitter to convey a message from his father.

The message read: “Jail me three years or 30 – I will never give up.”

As of yet no international governments have come out with any statements, but we are awaiting responses from both the UK Foreign Office and US State Department. We will update when we have more information.


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