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Joint Open Letter to Boris Johnson calling for the release of jailed human rights defender Nabeel Rajab

Boris Johnson

Secretary of State forForeign and Commonwealth Affairs

King Charles Street



3 February 2017

Dear Mr Johnson,

In light of recentdevelopments in Bahrain, we write to raise our deep concern over the punitivetrials of prominent human rights defender NabeelRajab, who is being prosecuted in three separate cases for exercising hisright to freedom of expression. As Foreign Secretary you have re-committed yourOffice to counter the shrinking of civil society space and promote the work ofhuman rights defenders. We therefore urge you to give effect to this commitmentby calling for the release of Nabeel Rajab.

Nabeel Rajab is thePresident of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a member of Human RightsWatch’s Middle East Division advisory committee and a founding director of theGulf Center for Human Rights. He faces up to 17 years in prison on severalcharges, all related to his free speech.

Nabeel Rajab, who hasbeen in detention, largely in solitary confinement, since his arrest on 13 June2016, currently faces two separate trials related to his right to free speech.In the first of these, he is charged with “spreading rumours in wartime”,“insulting a neighbouring country” (Saudi Arabia) and “insulting a statutorybody”. The first two charges relate to Nabeel Rajab’s tweets published in March2015 alleging torture in Jaw prison and criticising the killing of civilians inthe Yemen conflict by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The verdict in his trialhas been postponed several times suggesting that this is part of a deliberatestrategy to harass him. His next hearing on this case is due to take place on21 February.

On 28 December, during a hearing on the Twitter case, the high criminal court authorisedNabeel Rajab’s release on bail; he was then immediately rearrested forinvestigation into the charge of “spreading false news in media interviews”. According to the prosecution, Nabeel Rajab'scharge relate to comments given to media outlets in which he stated thatforeign journalists and international NGOs cannot enter Bahrain and that theimprisonment of opposition actors was political and illegal. However, multipleinternational NGOs including Human Rights First, and Reporters Without Borders,as well as academics and journalists, have been
denied access since 2012. Amnesty International has also not been granted access toBahrain since January 2015. Meanwhile, political and unlawful imprisonments arecommon in Bahrain: Bahrain was the subject of six UN Working Group on ArbitraryDetention rulings in 2014. Amnesty International has also documented manyprisoners of conscience in Bahrain. Nabeel Rajab’s next hearing on this case isscheduled for 7 February.

In addition, Nabeel Rajabhas a third charge against him for “spreading false news” after he an Op-Ed written in hisname was published in the New York Times inSeptember 2016.

We note the UK Government’sstatements in recent years relating to Nabeel Rajab. In 2014 for example, atthe UN Human Rights Council the UK together with 46 other states, urged Bahrain “to release all persons imprisoned solely for exercising human rights,including human rights defenders, some of whom have been identified asarbitrarily detained according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.”Also, since your appointment as Foreign Secretary, the Government has, throughParliament and the UN Human Rights Council, expressed concern at the re-arrestof Nabeel Rajab and confirmed that UK officials continue to raise his case withthe Government of Bahrain and attend each of his hearings. While such efforts are welcome, it appears thatthe UK Government has not yet called for his release.

Since your appointment,the human rights situation in Bahrain has further deteriorated. The recentresumption of executions and excessive use of force against protesters,contradict the Bahraini authorities’ rhetoric of progress being made.

We strongly believe thatthe UK, following your and the Prime Minister’s visit to Bahrain in December,and particularly now that the UK has regained a seat on the UN Human RightsCouncil, should review its current policy on the human rights situation inBahrain, publicly condemn regressive measures and call for the release ofNabeel Rajab and others detained solely for peacefully exercising their rightto freedom of expression such as Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General ofal-Wefaq National Islamic Society.

The UK’s significanthistorical, economic, security and political ties with Bahrain incur aresponsibility to acknowledge and criticise negative human rights developmentswithin the country. The UK’s voice is strongly heard in Bahrain, and we urgeyou to act publicly and promptly in support of Nabeel Rajab’s human rights workand call for his release.

We would like to requesta meeting with the FCO to discuss our human rights concerns in Bahrain and NabeelRajab’s case and hear the FCO’s views on his case and what the UK governmentcan do to uphold its commitment to reverse the shrinking civil society space inBahrain.

Yours sincerely,

Americans for Democracy & HumanRights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Amnesty International UK


Bahrain Center for Human Rights(BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights andDemocracy (BIRD)

Bahrain Youth Society for HumanRights

Canadian Journalists for FreeExpression (CJFE)

English PEN

European Centre For Democracy andHuman Rights (ECDHR)

FIDH, under the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

Index on Censorship

Lawyer's Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)

No Peace Without Justice

PEN International

Rafto Foundation

The Bahrain Press Association

World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


Clive Stafford Smith (OBE), directorof Reprieve

Professor Damian McCormack

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