Bahraini women protest.
(photo credit: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)
Human rights groups urged Bahrain’s court of appeal on Sunday to quash what they
call the “politically motivated” conviction of the leader of the country’s main
human rights group.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for
Human Rights, received a three-year sentence in August for “involvement in
illegal practices, inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorized marches via
social networking sites.”
Rajab is scheduled to appear in court on
Tuesday to appeal his conviction and sentence.
Under Bahrain’s Penal
Code, it is a criminal offense for five or more people to gather in a public
place to “undermine public security, even if intended to achieve legitimate
According to Human Rights Watch, the conviction and prison
sentence violate Rajab’s basic right to freedom of assembly.
Bahraini government has publicly accused Rajab of inciting violence during three
demonstrations between January and March of this year, HRW say state prosecutors
failed to present any evidence to back up the charges.
court verdict cites no evidence, not even an allegation, that Nabeel Rajab
participated in or advocated violent protests,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy
Middle East and North Africa director.
Stork accused the Bahraini
authorities of imposing “politically motivated punishment” on
Washington-based Human Rights First also slammed the charges
against Rajab as “politically motivated and a direct violation of his freedom of
“Just last month, the Bahraini government agreed to respect
these freedoms and to abide by the recommendations of the United Nations Human
Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review,” Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley
said. “The kingdom has already abandoned that promise, as it did every promise
of reform made before it.”
The Observatory for the Protection of Human
Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human
Rights and the World Organization Against Torture, has accused the Bahraini
authorities of judicial harassment and arbitrary detention in Rajab’s case,
calling it “evidence of the continued criminalization of human rights defenders’
In August, Rajab won an appeal against a separate
three-month prison term imposed after he made comments on Twitter criticizing
Bahrain’s Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
The calls to
quash Rajab’s conviction for protesting came after some 200 anti-government
protesters demonstrated in Bahrain’s capital Manama on Friday, demanding that
the activist be set free.
Riot police dispersed the demonstrators by
using sound grenades and made a few arrests, Reuters reported.
Friday, Bahraini police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters at a
second, larger prodemocracy rally in Manama, led by Bahrain’s main opposition
bloc, the Shi’ite al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, according to
“The regime in Bahrain continues to escalate its brutal
crackdown against the people and the leaders of the Bahraini opposition by
suppressing all peaceful protests that take to the streets on daily basis from
different areas around Bahrain,” al-Wefaq said in a statement published on its
website, which was co-signed by four other opposition parties including the
leftist National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad).
“The regime spares no
effort to use excessive force against the people of the opposition after tense
announcements by high-ranked officials targeting leaders of the opposition,” the
opposition group added.
After the rally, Bahrain’s Interior Ministry
claimed on Twitter that police stepped in after the protest turned
The Bahrain police website also reported that officers had
arrested “thugs” who had thrown Molotov cocktails, iron rods and stones at
police. “Police responded by using the necessary force to restore
Several thugs and rioters were arrested and will be referred to
the public prosecutor. An investigation has begun to identify others involved in
the incidents,” the police statement said.
However, a spokesperson for
the Bahrain Center for Human Rights later told reporters that the rally had been