Rabab Mohamed Hasan (Mother)
Ahmed Abdulrasool Rajab (Father)
Sameera Rajab (paternal cousin)
Mohamed Jawad Parweez (maternal uncle)
Ion Ratiu Democracy Award (2011)
Silbury Prize (2011)
Freedom of Expression Award (2012)
Nabeel Ahmed Abdulrasool Rajab (Arabic: نبيل أحمد
عبدالرسول رجب, born on 1 September 1964) is a Bahraini
human rights activist and opposition leader. He is president of the
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR). He is also a prominent
international human rights activist. He is a member of the Advisory
Committee of Human Rights Watch's
Middle East Division, Deputy
Secretary General for the International Federation for Human Rights
(FIDH), former chairman of CARAM Asia, member of the Advisory Board of
Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO), and
Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).
Rajab started his human rights activity during the 1990s uprising
before going on to become involved in campaigning on behalf of migrant
workers in GCC countries.He is known for his pioneering use of social
networking as an important element in human rights campaigning which
has brought him into conflict with the authorities. Front Line
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders have
described him as being targeted by Bahraini authorities for his human
During the Bahraini uprising, in which he led numerous protests, he
has clashed with the political authorities and security forces. As
well as criticizing the Bahraini government itself, he has also been
sharply critical of the role of Bahrain's allies, including the United
Following protests during the Formula 1 race in April 2012 that
attracted media attention, Rajab was arrested and incarcerated several
times. On 9 July, he was detained and sentenced to three months prison
for having "insulted Bahrainis" in a
Twitter message and most recently
on 16 August, while still in detention, Rajab was sentenced to three
years' imprisonment on three protest-related charges. The verdict has
drawn criticism from Bahrain's western allies and human rights
organizations. In December, 2012, the sentence was reduced to 2 years
in prison after appeal. In December 2013, a court denied him early
release. He was released on 24 May 2014, after serving 2 years in
prison. He was re-arrested on 1 October over criticizing the
government on Twitter. On 2 November he was released on bail, pending
his next trial on 20 January 2015.
Rajab's human rights work has been recognized internationally but
within Bahraini society he remains a figure of controversy. Labeled as
the informal leader of the uprising and a hero to protesters, Rajab is
viewed by government supporters as a troublemaker.
Human rights activism
2.1 Early years
2.2 Foundation of Human Rights committees
2.3 Migrant workers rights
2.4 Work with other international Human Rights organizations
3 Reports of government harassment prior to 2011
4 Involvement in the Bahraini uprising
4.2 Role in the uprising
4.3 May 2012 arrest
4.4 June 2012 arrest
4.5 July 2012 arrest
4.6 August 2012 sentence
4.6.1 Domestic reactions
4.6.2 International reactions
4.6.3 Trial of Appeal
4.7 October 2014 arrest
4.8 July 2015 release
4.9 June 2016 arrest
4.10 July 2017 sentence
4.11 February 2018 sentence
4.12 Criticism of the United States
5 Online activity
6 See also
8 External links
Nabeel Rajab was born on 1 September 1964 in
Bahrain to a middle-class
family. He is married and has two children. He finished his
secondary school education in 1983 in Bahrain, specializing in
science. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science
and History from the
University of Pune
University of Pune (formerly University of Poona)
India in 1987. He earns his living as a "building contractor
by trade". In February 2012, Rajab announced his intention to close
down his business due to what he called government harassment.
Nabeel Rajab is a nephew of Mohamed Hasan Jawad, one of the Bahrain
Thirteen who were imprisoned for taking part in the uprising in 2011.
He is also a cousin of Hussain Jawad, a prominent human rights
activist arrested in February 2015.
Human rights activism
In an interview with
Bahrain Mirror, Rajab spoke about his earliest
human rights activities while still a student at Al
school and described two particularly significant formative
Two events affected me most, one when a colleague dropped himself from
second floor to escape under-covered police who stormed school. The
second incident was when a dear teacher was arrested. That is when my
voice started to rise and become annoying. I was caught vandalizing a
school wall by writing apolitical human rights statements on school
walls and was given the choice to either be submitted to police or to
switch school. So I took the easy way out and since I was the top
student back then, I choose to switch to Sheikh Abdul Aziz school.
Rajab traveled to
India to study Political Science and History. He
received his bachelor's degree but financial problems after his father
became ill prevented him obtaining a master's degree. He returned to
Bahrain to find employment. During his college years, he remained
independent of political affiliations. According to Rajab, despite
lacking a clear understanding of what constitutes a culture of human
rights or knowledge of human rights standards and norms, he was active
within the general Bahraini students union, speaking out against all
forms of injustice. He also became involved in international
campaigning on specific issues.
According to Rajab, he became involved in organized human rights
activities during the 1990s uprising in Bahrain. In 1996 Rajab
discussed the idea of setting up a human rights organization with Ali
Rabea and Ibrahim Kamal Al Den. They introduced him to Salman Kamal Al
Den, Sabeeka Al Najjar, Mohammed Al Motawa and other colleagues with
whom they held secret meetings. Together they founded the Bahrain
Human Rights Society in 2000.
Foundation of Human Rights committees
With the ending of the oppressive State Security Law period in 2000,
Rajab was able to begin working openly in the field of
Human rights as
one of the founders of the
Bahrain Human Rights Society, one of the
first human rights organizations in Bahrain. He subsequently fell
out with some of the other founders. In 2002, following wide ranging
political reforms by the Bahraini government which allowed independent
human rights groups to operate, Rajab worked with Abdulhadi al-Khawaja
and others to found the
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), a
nonprofit non-governmental organization which works to promote human
rights in Bahrain. Rajab was Training Program Officer and Senior
Researcher at BCHR. He later became Vice President and Head of
International Relations until he later took over from Abdulhadi
Al-Khawaja as BCHR president, a position he still held as of
August 2012. In 2011, he along with Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and
Khalid Ibrahim founded the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Rajab became
the president of the newly founded rights group, and remains a
Migrant workers rights
Nabeel Rajab defending migrant workers, London, November 2010 on
Rajab was one of the founders of the first migrant workers protection
committee in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the Migrant
Workers Protection Group (in 2003). On 28 April 2007, the Bahraini
Parliament passed a law banning unmarried migrant workers from living
in residential areas. BCHR issued a press release condemning this
decision as discriminatory and promoting negative racist attitudes
towards migrant workers. Rajab, then BCHR vice president,
It is appalling that
Bahrain is willing to rest on the benefits of
these people’s hard work, and often their suffering, but that they
refuse to live with them in equality and dignity. The solution is not
to force migrant workers into ghettos, but to urge companies to
improve living conditions for workers – and not to accommodate large
numbers of workers in inadequate space, and to improve the standard of
living for them.
In October 2009 Nabeel was elected Chairperson of CARAM Asia for 2
years. CARAM is a regional non-governmental organization, based in
the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, that works to defend the rights
of migrant workers, reduce the risks to which their communities are
vulnerable, including HIV, and promote their health rights. On
24 February 2010, Rajab addressed the "World Congress against the
Death Penalty" conference in
Geneva on the subject of "Migrant Workers
and the Death Penalty in
Bahrain & Saudi Arabia". He drew
attention to the exceptional vulnerability of migrant workers in
countries with systemic abuses and rights violations.
Work with other international Human Rights organizations
Nabeel Rajab's (left) visit to
Freedom House along with Abdulhadi
Since December 2009, Nabeel has been a member of the Board of Advisors
Middle East and North African division of Human Rights Watch, a
position he still held in February 2012. In July 2010 the
International Federation for Human Rights
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) appointed Rajab to
the position of Deputy Secretary General and FIDH permanent
representative in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. He
is also a member of the Arab working group for media monitoring.
In 2011, Rajab received the
Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, presented
annually by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars. The award citation praised him for having "worked
tirelessly and at considerable personal peril to advance the cause of
democratic freedoms and the civil rights of Bahraini citizens". On
13 September, Rajab received the British Silbury Prize to "facilitate
his on-going humanitarian and human rights work". In December, the
Arabic American organization for democracy and human rights listed him
among the fifteen "leaders of the Arab Spring". Other activists from
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Mohamed al-Maskati.
In 2012, the BCHR led by Rajab won
Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship Freedom of
Expression Advocacy Award. The award sponsored by Bindmans LLP aims to
"recognise campaigners or activists who have fought repression, or
have struggled to challenge political climates and
perceptions." BCHR was also recipient of Roger Baldwin Medal
of Liberty given by Human Rights First. and in 2013 it won the
Rafto Prize "for their long and courageous fight for fundamental human
Reports of government harassment prior to 2011
Marks on the back of
Nabeel Rajab after allegedly being beaten by
police at a 15 July 2005 protest
According to Front Line, Rajab has been the subject of ongoing
harassment since 2005, including physical attacks and smear campaigns
in the media (official TV, radio channels,
Bahrain News Agency and
newspapers close to government).
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch and
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders have both described him as being targeted by
Bahraini authorities for his human rights activities. In a
postal campaign targeting Rajab and his wife thousands of letters were
According to an
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada report, on 15
July 2005, Nabeel and several others were beaten by
whilst attending a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the
Committee for the Unemployed. BCHR stated that Rajab suffered
a spinal injury, a broken finger, a fractured arm and a head
injury and was hospitalised for two weeks as a result.
During a government crackdown in the summer of 2010, Rajab's
photograph was published a number of times by the pro-government
Al-Watan Newspaper accusing him of supporting a terrorist network and
being "active in publishing false reports and information". Gulf
Daily News also published Rajab's photo naming him as one of the
"supporters" of aforementioned network. A few days later, the
Bahrain News Agency published a
PowerPoint file about the alleged
terrorist network. According to BCHR and Human Rights Watch,
the file referred to Rajab as having been officially accused of
involvement in the terrorist network. The claim was removed the
During this time, the authorities imposed a ban preventing Rajab from
engaging in any new business in
Bahrain that made it difficult for him
to earn a living. The ban was subsequently lifted without any official
explanation. In mid-August 2010, a number of opposition
activists were again arrested. According to Rajab, an order for his
arrest was issued on 8 September but was cancelled on 18 October.
Rajab was also subject to a travel ban during this period.
Involvement in the Bahraini uprising
Nabeel Rajab (left) along with
Ali Abdulemam (middle) and Abdulhadi
Alkhawaja (right) taking part in a pro-democracy march on 23 February
Main article: Bahraini uprising (2011–present)
Beginning in February 2011,
Bahrain saw sustained pro-democracy
protests, centered at
Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama, as
part of the wider Arab Spring. Authorities responded with a night raid
on 17 February (later known as Bloody Thursday), which left four
protesters dead and more than 300 injured. Protests continued for
a month reaching over 100,000 participants in a nation of about
500,000 citizens, until more than a thousand troops and
police from the Gulf Cooperation Council arrived at the request of
government and a three-month state of emergency was declared.
Authorities then cracked down on the protests. However,
smaller-scale protests and clashes continued to occur almost daily,
mostly in areas outside Manama's business districts, with some rare
marches in the center of the capital city. As of April 2012,
more than 80 people had died since the start of the uprising and
as of January 2013, near-daily clashes between protesters and police
Role in the uprising
Throughout the uprising Rajab was a "vocal critic of the human rights
violations". He was one of the few who kept criticizing the
government during state of emergency. Unlike other opposition
parties who organized protests in
Shia villages, Rajab insisted on
staging them within the capital. He led many protests, several
of them in Manama, putting him in standoffs with security forces.
Rajab was named by
Al Jazeera English
Al Jazeera English the "unofficial leader of the 14
February movement" and
The Atlantic labelled him "the de-facto
leader of Bahrain's resurgent uprising." Rajab said he was a normal
activist and that he was not engaged in planning for protests. Despite
acknowledging it was "dangerous and costly", he expressed happiness
about his role in the uprising.
On the other hand,
Foreign Policy mentioned that a big portion of the
Sunni community think of Rajab as a troublemaker. The majority
Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims comprise a substantial
minority and hold the top positions of power. The largest
opposition party is
Al Wefaq which is a
Shia Islamist movement
(albeit internationally recognized as moderate and tightly
allied with secular opposition parties). One source of opposition
to Rajab (who has taken anti-sectarian stands) and his movement is
the fear (particularly among Sunnis) that they could bring Shia
Islamists to power.
In the early hours of 20 March 2011, a group of 20 to 25 masked men,
some armed with rifles and accompanied by dozens of uniformed Bahraini
security forces, broke into Rajab's house. Rajab was detained and his
files and a computer were confiscated. He reported that they
blindfolded and handcuffed him and put him into the back of a vehicle
before verbally abusing, beating and threatening to rape him. He
claimed that they kicked him when he refused to say that he loved the
prime minister. He was taken to a Ministry of Interior detention
facility in Adliya, a suburb of Manama. After being briefly questioned
about someone he did not know, he was released.
On 10 April, officials publicly accused Rajab of fabricating photos
posted on his
Twitter account of the body of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer,
who died in detention on 9 April. The Ministry of Interior announced
that Rajab would be referred to the Military Prosecutor for legal
action. The photos showed slash marks all over Saqer's back and
other signs of physical abuse, and were also stated to be accurate by
an HRW researcher who had seen the body prior to burial. Five
prison guards were subsequently charged with Saqer's death.
Front Line interview with
Nabeel Rajab about attacks on his house on
Tear gas fired at Rajab's house on 18 April (left) and 21 May (right)
In incidents on 18 April, 21 May and 15 December, tear gas
grenades were fired at Rajab's house in the village of
Bani Jamra by
unknown assailants. In the first incident, HRW identified the grenades
thrown into the Rajab family's compound as US-manufactured munitions
to which only Bahrain's security forces would have had access. Tear
gas penetrated into the adjacent home of Rajab's 78-year-old mother
who suffers from respiratory disease, causing her great
distress. On 21 May, four gas grenades were fired at the
house. This time, according to Rajab, the grenades were smaller than
those used in the mid-April assault and there were no marks
identifying the manufacturer.
According to the BCHR, authorities organized an anonymous smear
campaign targeting Rajab and
Maryam al-Khawaja in May 2011. Later
in the month Rajab stated that his uncle, Mohammad Hassan Mohammad
Jawad (65 years old), an arrested activist, was being tortured because
of their relationship. He also stated that he was prevented by
Muharraq airport security staff from traveling to Beirut to attend an
International Freedom of Expression Exchange
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) meeting in
May and an
Amnesty International conference in June.
On 31 May, just after the King of
Bahrain had called for dialogue
without preconditions to begin in early July the military National
Safety Court issued an order for Rajab's arrest along with those of
Al Wefaq parliamentarians. Rajab was accused of
spreading false news and statements about the situation in
promoting hatred and disrespect of a specific religious sect, in
addition to humiliating the king of Bahrain. All the detainees
were released the same day.
Irish Delegation meet with
Nabeel Rajab at his home on 14 July.
In November, Rajab took part in a six-member international fact
finding mission. It released a 27-page report and gave eleven
recommendations addressing human rights violations in Bahrain.
In December, Rajab and two other human rights activists received death
Twitter by a retired security official. On 6 January
2012, after leading a night peaceful protest in Fareeq el-Makharqa
in Manama, Rajab was hospitalized and briefly detained with
injuries from an alleged beating, which the opposition blamed on
security forces. Via their
Twitter account, the Ministry of the
Interior denied the accusation, saying police found Rajab "lying on
the ground" and referred him to hospital.
On 12 February, Rajab was briefly detained after he tried to march
along with his family to the location of the symbolic Pearl Roundabout
in Manama. Rajab explained that he took this move to be a
model to encourage people from different ages to take part in
protests. Following the media attention on protests during the
Formula 1 race in April 2012, the government launched a "legal
crackdown" in which Rajab was arrested and released several
May 2012 arrest
On 5 May, Rajab was arrested at
Bahrain International Airport on his
arrival from Lebanon the day before a scheduled court hearing relating
to a march he had attended in March.
Julian Assange said he
believed Rajab's arrest was linked to his appearance on Assange's
World Tomorrow television talk-show and Project on Middle East
Democracy (POMED) associated it with an interview with the BBC's
HARDtalk. The following day the Ministry of the Interior issued a
statement that Rajab had been arrested for "committing a number of
crimes". Before the arrest, Rajab had stated he would not attend
the trial, because the Judiciary of
Bahrain was "a tool used against
human rights defenders and people calling for democracy and
On 6 May, Rajab was charged with "insulting a statutory body via
Twitter," his lawyer said. The online newspaper
identified Rajab's tweets criticizing the Ministry of Interior as the
likely cause. The Tweet suggested the ministry did not carry out
"proper investigations into civilian deaths," which was already
BICI report that labelled the findings of the Interior
Ministry, in general, as "in many cases, flawed and biased in its
Rajab pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, but the
prosecutor decided to keep him in detention for 7 days. On 12
May, the public prosecution extended his detention by one
week. On 16 May, fifty-five lawyers were present in court in
solidarity with Rajab who pleaded not guilty again and stated that the
charge against him was "malicious". Despite being granted bail on
20 May, Rajab was kept in detention on a further charge of "organizing
illegal protests". Activists accused the Bahraini authorities of
trying to find any way of keeping Rajab off the streets.
Political cartoon by
Carlos Latuff after Rajab was arrested in May
Spokesman of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
said she was concerned at the arrest of Rajab. The Australian
Senate unanimously passed a ruling demanding their government to
"[m]ake direct representations to Bahraini authorities for the
immediate release of Nabeel Rajab." Amnesty International
designated Rajab a prisoner of conscience and called for his immediate
and unconditional release.
Human rights groups Arab Program for
Human Rights Activists, BCHR, Cairo Institute for Human
Rights Studies, FIDH, Freedom House, GCHR, and the
political party Al Wefaq demanded his release.
Bahrain Forum for
Human Rights called Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United
Nations to intervene for the release of Rajab. Political
Carlos Latuff created a cartoon about Rajab.
On 28 May, spending twenty four days in detention, Rajab was released
on bail and placed on a travel ban.
June 2012 arrest
After being briefly released, Rajab was re-arrested on 6 June on a
charge of "publicly insulting residents of a Sunni-dominated
neighbourhood for their ties to the ruling dynasty", the fifth charge
brought against him in a period of one month. Human Rights Watch
and other rights group participating in Bahrain's Universal Periodic
Review session demanded release of Rajab. He was released on bail
on 27 June still facing three charges relating to
Twitter activity and
two about organizing "illegal" protests.
July 2012 arrest
On 7 July, Rajab was banned from traveling, and two days later he
was arrested by more than a dozen of masked security personnel from
his house few hours after a court sentenced him to
three-month prison for a Tweet out of six in which he criticized the
prime minister that the court found had insulted Bahrainis.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders described
the arrest as an "arbitrary detention". In the Tweet Rajab said
"everyone knows you [prime minister] are not popular and if it
weren’t for the need for money, [the
Muharraq residents] would not
have welcomed you." The charge was "publicly vilifying the people
Muharraq and questioning their patriotism with disgraceful
expressions posted via social networking websites."
Rajab's lawyer said the verdict was unexpected because the charge of
insult was normally punished by a fine. Human Rights First,
Human Rights Watch and nineteen members of the United States
Congress called for Rajab's release. Four Bahraini rights group
issued a joint statement condemning the sentence and five
political parties held a sit-in in solidarity with Rajab. Yousif
al-Mahafdha of BCHR said "[t]hey arrested him to send a message to all
activists that you will get arrested like him if you talk to the
The appeal was scheduled for 23 August, when Rajab was acquitted
of the charge, but remained in custody on another sentence.
According to the
Bahrain News Agency, the judge decided to release
Rajab, because "he was not satisfied with the evidence put
forward". During the trial, Rajab complained of "physical and
psychological torture" in prison and solitary confinement in a "dark
cell", his lawyer reported.
August 2012 sentence
On 16 August, Rajab was sentenced to one year in prison on each of
three charges for a total of three years. Charges were
"involvement in illegal practices and inciting gatherings and calling
for unauthorized marches through social networking sites",
"participation in an illegal assembly", and "participation in an
illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior
notification." Public prosecutors stated that Rajab's
"provocation of his supporters" had incited violence, including the
road blockades and petrol bomb attacks. "The Public Prosecution
produced evidence that the accused had called in public speeches for a
demonstration to confront public security personnel, inciting violence
and escalation against law enforcement officers, resulting in deaths
during those confrontations", a public prosecutor said. The
appeal was scheduled to take place on 10 September. Rajab was
Jaww prison. On 20 August, he was allowed to make a
two-minute call to his family. He told them he was in solitary
confinement with no access to newspapers.
A number of people held a sit-in in solidarity with Rajab on 23 August
Left to right.
Mohamed al-Maskati giving a speech in the sit-in and
Mohamed Albuflasa listening among the crowd
Samira Rajab, the country's Minister of State for Information (and
Rajab's cousin twice over) declared that Rajab had enjoyed a fair
trial with unrestricted access to legal assistance. She said that
action had been taken against him because although claiming to be a
human rights activist he had in fact been engaging in political
activity, a justification similar to that offered by an
officially-appointed MP for the trial of
Bahrain health workers.
Rajab's wife accused the minister of lying to the international media
and fabricating film footage played during a press conference.
She said that the court proceedings had clearly demonstrated the
absence of justice and an independent judiciary. Rajab's son
quoted his father as saying, "Jail me 3 years or 30, I will never give
up". Mr. Jishi, Rajab's lawyer, said the government was "sending
a message", further emphasised by the King of Bahrain's speech that
week referring to a duty to "protect peaceful, good-natured citizens
who do not seek to usurp power".
BCHR said that the only reason Rajab had been targeted was to prevent
him from continuing his legitimate and peaceful human rights
Al Wefaq political party said Rajab's sentence was
further evidence of the government's unwillingness to find a solution
to the crisis, noting that political detainees were prisoners of
conscience and the regime had no right to use them as hostages "as
part of its security solution to the ongoing political crisis".
Justin Gengler, a
Bahrain researcher based in Qatar,
remarked that Bahrain's 'reformist' king was unfortunately beginning
to sound eerily like his uncle. A number of political and human
rights activists held a sit-in in solidarity with Rajab at National
Democratic Action Society headquarters on 18 August. On 31
August, thousands of protesters filled a three-kilometer highway
chanting for the release of Rajab.
A number of independent
United Nations experts including the United
Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special
Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
expressed serious concern about the government of Bahrain's "campaign
of persecution" directed against rights activists and called for
Nabeel Rajab's immediate release. They urged the Bahraini
authorities to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of
expression and release anyone arbitrarily detained for exercising
legitimate freedoms without delay.
The United States and
European Union criticized the sentence. A United
States Department of State spokesperson described the sentence as
deeply troubling, affirming the fundamental freedom of all to
participate in civil acts of peaceful disobedience. The State
Department called on the government of
Bahrain "to take steps to build
confidence across Bahraini society" and "begin a really meaningful
dialogue with the political opposition and civil society" as actions
like Rajab's sentencing would cause further divisions within Bahraini
Sanjeev Bery of
Amnesty International criticized the US reaction as
late and insufficient. He highlighted Michael Posner's testimony in
which he stated that Rajab's case was "a bit more complicated" and
Victoria Nuland's answers to reporters in which "it took [her] so
long" to call for Rajab's release. FIDH said the US reaction was
"woefully insufficient" and that it was "turn[ing] a blind eye to
human rights violations in Bahrain". BCHR criticized the US
"silent reaction" towards the arrest. "[T]he lack of pressure from the
US administration appears to be linked with the Bahraini
government’s willingness to escalate," it added.
European Union noted the verdict with concern and expected it to
be "reconsidered in the appeal process". A spokesperson for the
French Foreign Office affirmed the right of freedom of expression and
called for dialogue as a mean to solve the political crisis. "We are
disturbed by the harsh sentence imposed on Mr. Rajab and hope it will
be reviewed on appeal," spokesperson added. A spokesperson for
the UK Foreign Office expressed concern at the length of the sentence
and called on opposition activists to avoid inciting "violence or
other illegal acts". "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," spokesperson added.
The sentence was sharply criticized by rights groups. Forty three
rights groups signed a joint appeal to release Rajab. Brian
Human Rights First
Human Rights First found the verdict shocking even by
Bahrain's "abysmal" standards on human rights. He added that the
regime could not be seen as serious about human rights reform when it
jailed one of the world's most prominent activists to prison for three
years. Referring to a "dark day for justice" in Bahrain, Amnesty
International said that the use of such blatant ruthless tactics to
suppress dissenting voices could leave the international community
under no illusion that
Bahrain was on the path of reform. Human
Rights Watch argued that the government had yet to show that Rajab had
done any more than exercise his right to free expression and peaceful
assembly and demanded his release.
FIDH, Front Line Defenders, Gulf Centre for Human
Rights, Index on Censorship, IFEX, Julian Assange,
Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights, Reporters
Without Borders and World Organization Against Torture
criticized the sentence and called for Rajab's immediate release. Jane
Chatham House reported speculation that the case might
be used as a political bargaining chip in efforts to prepare the
ground for a fresh political dialogue urged by Bahrain's western
allies. She added that the verdict sends "a signal that the
government is taking a harder line on protests." History
professor Toby C. Jones said the sentence "represents the end of any
pretense of reforms" in Bahrain.
Trial of Appeal
On 11 December 2012, the court of appeal reduced the sentence of Rajab
to two years in prison after it cleared him from insulting police. The
court however upheld the charge of "illegal gathering". Rajab had
expected to be released, according to his wife. The United States
Assistant Secretary of State, Michael Posner called the Bahraini
authorities to drop all charges related to non-violent activism. Jeo
Stork of HRW criticized the judiciary as being "very politicized" and
called the court decision "bizarre".
The Gulf Center for Human Rights said that the defense team had faced
many obstacles during the trial of appeal including that the
International experts who were introduced to the court as defense
witnesses were denied entry at
Bahrain international airport, and the
defense team were denied access to the evidences submitted by the
prosecution. Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East
and North Africa commented that “The appeal court’s gesture to
reduce Nabeel Rajab’s sentence by one year is completely hollow
given that he shouldn’t be serving any time in prison in the first
place”. Other human rights organizations, including Human
Rights First, Front Line Defenders, the International Federation for
Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
condemned the ruling of the court of appeal and called for the
immediate release of Nabeel Rajab.
In December 2013, a court denied Rajab early release after he had
served three quarters of his sentence. According to Bahraini law, a
prisoner may be eligible for early release after serving three
quarters of the sentence. Rajab's lawyer stated that the court gave no
reason for rejecting early release.
On 24 May 2014, Rajab was released from prison after serving his full
term of 2 years. FIDH welcomed the move, with its Secretary General
Amina Bouayach travelling to
Bahrain to meet Rajab as soon as he was
released. "It is an immense pleasure to see our friend and colleague
Nabeel again. We have been waiting for this moment for a very long
time," Bouayach said. Rajab was happy to be out and called for
the release of other prisoners and for "respect for human
October 2014 arrest
On 1 October, Rajab was arrested after being summoned to the Criminal
Investigation Directorate. He had just returned from a two-month
advocacy campaign in Europe in which he criticized the government and
called for international action against it. He was charged with
"publicly insulting official institutions" after he had criticized the
Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense on
Twitter for allegedly
being the "first ideological incubator" of Bahrainis who had joined
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). A month earlier, one
security officer at Ministry of Interior was terminated from
employment after joining ISIL and calling on other officers to
defect. The Public Prosecutor said Rajab had acknowledged
publishing the comments on Twitter.
On his first hearing on 19 October, Rajab denied charges against
him. He was released on the second hearing on 2 November with the
next hearing scheduled for 20 January. Rajab said he was targeted
because of his peaceful advocacy for human rights and democracy and
that he does not have any regrets for doing so.
July 2015 release
On 10 July, King Hamad issued a royal decree granting Rajab, who was
sentenced to six months, a special pardon,
Bahrain News Agency
June 2016 arrest
On 13 June, he was arrested in an early morning raid on his home in
the village of Bani Jamra, near Manama, according to his family
without saying any reasons.
July 2017 sentence
On 10 July, he was sentenced to two years in jail by a Bahraini court
after finding him guilty of "disseminating false news, statements and
rumours about the internal situation of the kingdom that would
undermine its prestige and status", according to a judicial
February 2018 sentence
On 21 February 2018, Rajab was sentenced by the High Criminal Court of
Bahrain to a further five years in jail for tweets and documentation
of human rights violations. The first charge was for “offending
national institutions” in connection to his documentation of
mistreatment and torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison in March 2015. (See
BCHR's report: Inside Jau: Government Brutality in Bahrain’s Central
Prison). The second charge of “spreading rumors during wartime”
related to his reporting on civilian deaths in Yemen, in contravention
of a government prohibition of any public mention that is critical of
the conflict. He was also charged under the
Bahrain penal code with
“offending a foreign country” (Saudi Arabia).
Criticism of the United States
Rajab was critical of the US role in
Bahrain throughout the uprising.
On 26 July 2011, in an interview with
Al Jazeera English, he expressed
disappointment at US silence and the inconsistent way in which US
standards of democracy and human rights were applied to countries
which they had problems but not to dictatorships with whom they had
good relations. On 21 December 2011, in an interview with
National Post, he criticized US support for royal dictatorships in the
region and contrasted the hard attitude shown towards Syria and Libya
with the soft attitude towards allies.
World Tomorrow episode broadcast on 8 May 2012, Rajab accused the
US of opposing democracy in
Bahrain when it asked Russia not to sell
arms for Syria while selling arms to Bahrain, and in July,
shortly before Rajab's arrest, he noted that the presence of US Fifth
Bahrain made the struggle against the monarchy more difficult
because US support, accompanied by the support, or silence, of the
international community, was seen as giving the green light for
repression and attacks on human rights defenders.
Rajab is an active user of online media in his human rights work, in
particular social networking sites such as
Facebook and Twitter. He
stopped posting in Internet forums in order to encourage support for
social network-based campaigning. He devotes significant time and
effort to his
Twitter account, created in March 2009, posting
mostly in Arabic, and in the 2011
Forbes magazine list of the 100
top Arabs on Twitter was ranked number 43, with 36,040
followers (currently about 322,000 - August 2016). He ranked
number 1 in Bahrain.
Even though on this occasion Rajab was personally congratulated by the
Minister, his use of
Twitter to publicise human rights abuses has
brought him into repeated conflict with the authorities. In April 2011
he was threatened with prosecution for the publication on his Twitter
account of an allegedly fabricated image of the body of Ali Issa Saqer
showing signs of torture in custody; the threats were withdrawn after
prison guards were charged with Saqer's death. The
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) described the
threat against Rajab of the first ever charge in the Arab world
involving "tweeting" (publishing information on Twitter) as an
illustration of the Bahraini government's implacable hostility towards
freedom of expression and Internet freedom.
In 2012 Rajab's Twitter-based campaigning led firstly to his detention
for three weeks (two weeks on the charge of "insulting a statutory
body via Twitter" and another week for "organizing illegal protests")
after he published tweets critical of the Ministry of Interior
(leading to criticism of the authorities by international human rights
organizations), then to a three-month prison sentence for a Tweet
criticizing the prime minister, and eventually in August 2012 he was
given three further consecutive one-year prison sentences for illegal
political activities involving the use of social networking
sites. On 23 August, spending more than half of his sentence,
Rajab was acquitted of
Twitter charge in which he criticized the prime
minister, but remained in jail while appealing the other prison
Bahrain Human Rights Society
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nabeel Rajab.
Bahrain Centre for Human Rights website
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List of videos for Nabeel Rajab
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