The release from prison on 14 July 2015 after more than three months in solitary confinement, of Nabeel Rajab, human rights defender, writer and President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), is a welcome first step towards an improvement in the freedom of expression situation in the country, PEN International said today. Rajab was pardoned by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The global writers organisation also reiterated its call for the release of others held solely for exercising their right of freedom of expression.

“Nabeel Rajab is a fearless defender of freedom of expression in Bahrain and his release is very welcome news,” said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

“We urge the government of Bahrain not to stop with Nabeel Rajab, but to release immediately and unconditionally the many other prisoners of conscience being held in repudiation of their rights. That is the assurance of renewal of respect for freedom of expression in Bahrain that is urgently needed.” 

Rajab was arrested at his home in Beni Jamra, Manama, Bahrain on 2 April 2015. His house was surrounded by some 20 police cars and a number of security forces participated in his arrest. He was presented with a warrant charging him with ‘spreading false news’. Rajab’s arrest was linked to a piece written by him and published by the Huffington Post entitled Into Bahrain’s Jaws of Hell, and for tweeting about the welfare of others held at the same prison. He was charged with ‘insulting a statutory body’ and ‘spreading rumours during war time’ and sentenced to six months imprisonment. The ruling was upheld in May by an appeals court.

Between 2012 and 2014 Rajab spent two years in prison for taking part in ‘illegal gatherings’. He was released in May 2014.

Rajab’s release comes days after the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for an EU-wide ban on the supply of tear gas and crowd control equipment to Bahrain and for the immediate release of Nabeel Rajab and other prisoners of conscience. PEN continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bahrain is a state party, including writer and human rights activist, Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace.