NEW YORK—The sentence of Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab to two years’ imprisonment for “disseminating false news” is not only a grave attack on free expression but also an attack on press freedom through punishment of journalists’ sources, PEN America said today.

On July 10, the High Criminal Court in Manama, Bahrain, found Nabeel Rajab guilty of “disseminating false news, statements, and rumors” with the goal of “discrediting and adversely affecting [Bahrain’s] prestige,” and sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment. Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, a Bahraini human rights monitoring NGO.

The charge stems from three television interviews Rajab gave with journalists between 2015 and 2016, in which he commented on the Bahrain government’s refusal to permit the entry of journalists and human rights researchers into the country. Rajab, who has been in custody since 2016, has spent over nine months in solitary confinement and was unable to attend his sentencing due to hospitalization for complications after an April surgery.

Nabeel Rajab is also on trial for posting a series of critical tweets regarding the use of torture in Bahraini prisons as well as the conflict in Yemen. He has been charged with “insulting a foreign country,” “spreading false rumours in time of war,” and “insulting public authorities,” referring to the Ministry of Interior. Hearings for that trial are set to resume next month, and if convicted, Rajab faces 15 years’ imprisonment.

“The charges against Rajab—and this conviction and two-year sentence—are an appalling demonstration of Bahrain’s hostile attitude toward criticism and toward any human rights advocacy that it sees as unflattering to the government,” said James Tager, Free Expression Programs manager at PEN America. “Not only is this conviction and sentencing unjust and unreasonable, it will clearly have a chilling effect on anyone else who might otherwise wish to comment on issues of public concern in Bahrain. We call on the Bahraini courts and authorities to uphold the right to free expression by overturning or vacating this conviction, dropping all remaining charges against Rajab, and releasing him immediately.”

PEN America has closely followed and monitored Rajab’s multiple arrests and treatment by the Bahraini government, and has participated in PEN International advocacy actions in support of Rajab’s right to freedom of expression.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

James Tager, Free Expression Programs Manager: [email protected], +1 858.472.1471