Rajab has been imprisoned in pre-trial detention since June, facing charges that could lead to 15 years in jail. The latest charges arising from his New York Times article, of “deliberate dissemination of false news and spreading tendentious rumours that undermine the prestige of the state”, could see any sentence extended further.
In a letter to the British foreign secretary, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) appealed to his belief in press freedom and urged him to publicly call for Rajab’s release.
In his New York Times article Rajab wrote that “no one has been properly held to account for systematic abuses that have affected thousands” in the Shia-majority nation, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy.
"BIRD argues that since the UK is a key ally to Bahrain, providing a multimillion-pound technical assistance programme since 2012, the Foreign Office has a responsibility to act in defence of prisoners of conscience such as Rajab, one of the most prominent human rights activists in the Middle East."
Rajab has been held largely in solitary confinement and his health has reportedly deteriorated.
The US State Department this week called for Rajab’s immediate release, saying: “We have concerns about the state of human rights in general in Bahrain and we’re engaging with the government … on all these issues.”
In a strongly worded editorial, the New York Times condemned the Bahrain government for its response to the article and chastised the US government for not doing more to distance itself from an increasingly repressive ally.
In its letter to Johnson BIRD said: “Bahrain is prosecuting the country’s leading human rights defender for his bravery in speaking his mind. He is a prisoner of conscience, and his story is emblematic: “Since 2011, Rajab has faced multiple prosecutions and prison sentences for his vocal activism.
"Bahrain has the largest prison population rate in the Middle East. A major proportion of that prison population is prisoners of conscience, like Rajab."
He was placed on a travel ban in 2014 and has been unable to leave the country. Calling for due process is not enough: Bahrain discarded that tenet of justice the moment they prosecuted Rajab for his speech, no less for writing in the New York Times. Effective public action ahead of his 6 October court date can prevent another miscarriage of justice by this key British ally.”
In his current trial, Rajab faces multiple charges of “insulting a statutory body”, “insulting a neighbouring country”, and “disseminating false rumours in time of war”. These are in relation to remarks he tweeted and retweeted on Twitter in 2015 about torture at Bahrain’s Jau prison.