GENEVA - The U.N. Human Rights office is calling on Bahrain to immediately release human rights defender Nabeel Rajab who has been in prison for two-and-a-half years after tweeting criticism about Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen and alleging torture inside Bahrain's Jau Prison. The U.N. agency says Rajab is being jailed for exercising his freedom of opinion and expression.
Bahrain's highest court upheld Nabeel Rajab's conviction and five-year sentence last Monday for "spreading false news and rumors in time of war" and related charges.
Last year, the U.N. Working Group of Arbitrary Detention declared Rajab's detention to be arbitrary. The U.N. human rights office accuses the Government of Bahrain of employing harsh measures to suppress the voices of its critics.
Human Rights spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said the government will go to great lengths to keep human rights defenders from speaking out. She cited the case of Sayed Ahmed Al Wadaei who tried to participate in a session of the Human Rights Council in 2017.
She told VOA the authorities prevented him from attending by arresting three of his family members in Bahrain on terrorism charges.
"All three of them reportedly suffered torture and ill-treatment while in detention… So, we have several emblematic cases that we are able to highlight. And, this, of course, leads to the concern that if even prominent human rights defenders are subjected to these kinds of intimidation and legal actions what can the less prominent ones be subjected to without international scrutiny," said the spokeswoman.
This case is included in a report on reprisals issued by the U.N. secretary-general in September. The report highlights specific cases where activists and their families in Bahrain have suffered reprisals for seeking to engage with U.N. rights mechanisms.
Shamdasani said the government of Bahrain is violating its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has ratified. As spokeswoman for the human rights office, she urged the government to stop criminalizing dissenting voices.