HRW urges Bahrain to release activist, lift travel ban
"Bahrain keeping Nabeel Rajab in a prison cell for criticising abuses shows the ruling Al Khalifa family's deep contempt for basic human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"States that claim to support peaceful activism should use the Human Rights Council session to demand Rajab's immediate release. And they should push Bahrain to lift the restrictions placed on Nabeel's colleagues."
Rajab, who faces up to 15 years in prison as his trial resumes on Monday, was arrested on 2 April 2015 after posting comments on Twitter criticising Bahrain's participation in Saudi Arabia-led military operations in Yemen.
He was released on 13 July the same year, but prosecutors did not close the cases and ordered his re-arrest on 13 June 2016.
According to articles 215 and 2016 of Bahrain's penal code, Rajab faces a two-year sentence if convicted of "offending a foreign country" (Saudi Arabia) and an additional three years if convicted of "offending national institutions", based on comments about unrest that broke out in Jaw Prison in March 2015.
Rajab, a member of the Middle East advisory committee at Human Rights Watch, has also been banned from travelling outside Bahrain since last year, a measure used against other dissenting voices in the country.
In June alone, 13 people – including journalists, human rights defenders and former prisoners of conscience – were prevented from leaving Bahrain, one of whom was planning to attend the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council meetings that begin in Geneva on 13 September.
"The member states of the Human Rights Council have an obligation to strongly criticise Bahrain and any other government that persecutes human rights defenders and obstructs the purpose of the UN human rights system," Stork said.
|Bahrain keeping Nabeel Rajab in a prison cell for criticising abuses shows the ruling Al Khalifa family's deep contempt for basic human rights
- Joe Stork
Amnesty International has also condemned Rajab's "farcical trial", describing it as a "barefaced assault on freedom of expression" and calling on Bahraini authorities to drop all charges against him.
"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 Programme at Amnesty International, said in July.
"The government must halt this brazen crackdown on freedom of expression and accept that everyone in Bahrain has the right to peacefully voice their opinions, including through social media."
The London-based rights watchdog has also raised concerns about Rajab's deteriorating health, as he has been taken to two hospitals for an irregular heartbeat since his detention and at the time of arrest, was waiting to schedule two operations related to other medical conditions.
Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since security forces crushed Shia-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister in 2011.
Despite repeated calls from their Western allies, the kingdom's rulers have made no concessions to the Shia opposition and have intensified a crackdown on critics.
On Thursday, Amnesty urged Bahraini authorities to end a "heightened crackdown" on its Shia opposition, after some 60 clerics were summoned or arrested for participating in a protest.
The clerics were among scores of other demonstrators detained after taking part in a sit-in protesting the stripping of top Shia cleric Isa Qassim's citizenship.
"The Bahraini authorities should halt immediately their heightened crackdown on peaceful critics and opponents," said the rights watchdog in a statement.
|The Bahraini authorities should halt immediately their heightened crackdown on peaceful critics and opponents
- Amnesty International
According to Amnesty, four of the arrested clerics were sentenced to between one and two years in prison following the sit-in in the village of Diraz and nine others remain in detention and are facing trial.
It said most of the 60 have been charged with "illegal gathering" or "inciting hatred of the regime" as well as taking part in the Diraz protest.
Qassim, who is considered the spiritual leader of the majority Shia community in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, went on trial in July on charges of illegal fundraising and money laundering, just weeks after authorities revoked his citizenship.
A statement by Shia clerics denounced the prosecution of their comrades, including a two-year jail sentence on Wednesday against cleric Majid al-Mishaal, who heads the country's Shia clerical council.
"We urge authorities to stop inflaming the country with the fire of sectarian persecution," the clerics' statement said.
Agencies contributed to this report.