FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 9, 2020
USCIRF Commends Bahrain for Release of Prisoner of Conscience Nabeel Rajab
Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today commended the government of Bahrain for releasing prominent human rights advocate Nabeel Rajab and allowing him to serve the rest of his sentence under non-custodial conditions.
“We are grateful that Bahrain has released Nabeel Rajab to an alternative sentence,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin. “This is a step in the right direction and should be followed by additional releases of political and religious prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
USCIRF raised concerns in its 2020 Annual Report about Rajab’s incarceration given his advocacy on behalf of Bahrain’s Shi’a Muslim community. USCIRF has long advocated for Rajab’s release. He was an inaugural prisoner in the Defending Freedoms Project founded jointly by USCIRF and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in 2012.
“Releasing Nabeel Rajab is a strong indication of the Bahraini government’s intent to improve human rights conditions in the country,” USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza added. “We commend the government of Bahrain for this important action, which demonstrates increasing respect for the peaceful exercise of freedom of religion and belief.”
Nabeel Rajab co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002, and advocated on behalf of Bahrain’s Shi’a Muslim citizens as part of a broader human rights agenda. Bahraini security forces arrested Rajab five times between 2012 and 2017 for his activism. In 2018, a court sentenced him to five years in prison for “spreading false rumors in a time of war,” “insulting public authorities,” and “insulting a foreign country” by criticizing on Twitter the Bahraini government’s support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, on top of a two-year sentence over television interviews in which Rajab said Bahrain was not granting human rights organizations access to the country.
Other prisoners of conscience advocating on behalf of or representing the Shi’a Muslim community remain in prison in Bahrain, and allege discrimination and mistreatment on the basis of their religious identity.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or 202-523-3240.