A Bahrain court's decision to sentence a prominent human rights activist to three years in prison for taking part in an anti-government protest is a "dark day for justice" in the country Amnesty International said today.
Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was found guilty of taking part in an “illegal gathering” among other charges in relation to a protest in the capital Manama on 6 February 2012.
Rajab, his family and one police guard were the only ones present at the Third Lower Criminal Court in Manama today when the judge read out the verdict.
Rajab is already serving a three-month sentence for libel in relation to a post he made on Twitter.
"The court's decision is a dark day for justice in Bahrain that further questions the independence of the judiciary," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
"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 such blatant ruthless tactics are being used to suppress dissenting voices. Bahrain’s international partners need to make this loud and clear to the Bahraini authorities”
According to his lawyers Rajab was found guilty of three charges – "gathering with the intention of disrupting security", "calling for marches or protests without a permit" and "participating in a protest without permit". Each charge related to one of three different protests he took part in during the first three months of 2012.
Rajab's wife Sumaya, who was with him at the reading of the verdict told Amnesty International:
"The sentence although harsh and unfair, comes as no surprise to Nabeel and I. It shows how biased and corrupt the judiciary in Bahrain is. There are no human rights in Bahrain. As the defence team said, this sentence is the biggest scandal in the history of Bahrain judiciary."
Nabeel Rajab was one of the organizers of the anti-government protests which started in February 2011.
In July, Rajab was sentenced to three-months in prison for libel following a complaint made against him by the people of al-Muharraq area, northern Bahrain, for “publicly vilifying the al-Muharraq people and questioning their patriotism with disgraceful expressions posted via social networking websites”.
The charges against Rajab related to a 2 June tweet addressing the Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, following his visit to the area. Rajab wrote: “Khalifa: Leave the al-Muharraq alley ways, their sheikhs and their elderly, everyone knows that you have no popularity there; and if it was not for their need for money they would not have come out to welcome you - when will you bow out?”
Rajab was arrested on 6 June following complaints about the tweet from several people of al-Muharraq. He was charged with libel on 14 June and released on bail on 27 June. Following a court hearing on 9 July, he was re-arrested and jailed in Manama’s al-Jaw prison.
The Penal Code and other Bahraini legislation, including Law 18 (1973) on Public Meetings, Processions and Gatherings (and amendments made through Law 32 of 2006), and the 2005 Political Societies Law severely restrict the right to freedom of expression and assembly and must be brought in line with international human rights law.