Government urged to defend Bahraini activist as ‘trial for tweeting’ begins

October 19, 2014

The UK Government’s close links to Bahrain have been criticised ahead of the trial of a Bahraini human rights activist, starting today (19th), for the ‘crime’ of sending tweets. 

Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the deputy secretary general of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), is facing a possible three years in prison for sending tweets critical of the Bahraini government during a European advocacy tour that included a panel at the House of Lords. 

Mr Rajab was arrested on October 1st by Bahrain’s ‘Cyber Crimes Department’ less than 24 hours after arriving in the country from Europe. On his arrival in the UK at the start of the trip, Mr Rajab and his family had been detained by British border agents for several hours. He now faces charges that include ‘insulting a government institution’.

Nine human rights organisations, including legal charity Reprieve, have called on Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond to speak out publicly on behalf of Mr Rajab and other activists being detained in Bahrain. In a separate urgent letter to Mr Hammond, Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith has asked him to raise Mr Rajab’s case with the Bahraini authorities ahead of the trial.

The UK has maintained close security and trade links to Bahrain throughout a recent crackdown on opposition activists, such as Mr Rajab. On a recent visit, Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said he was “pleased to see that UK expertise is helping to make a real difference”, while a Foreign Office report published on Wednesday said the Bahraini government had made ‘real progress’ on human rights. 

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “Nabeel Rajab is a hero of human rights who has stood up for oppressed people for years, including those Bahrainis who are the victims of the current crackdown. Shamefully, to date the British government has been part of the problem rather than the solution, including very publicly detaining Nabeel, his wife and his children on his recent visit to London. Now Nabeel is facing prison for the fatuous crime of ‘insulting a government institution’, British ministers simply must change course and stand up for him, before it’s too late.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Alice Gillham in Reprieve’s press office: alice [DOT] gillham [AT] reprieve [DOT] org [DOT] uk / 07792 351 660