After four years in prison, Bahrain has released prominent activist Nabeel Rajab at the urging of the United Nations, Western governments and human rights groups.Â
Rajab, 55, had been held in Jau Prison since 2016 on various chargesÂ the UN says violated his freedom of expression. In 2018, he received a five-year sentence for tweets alleging abuse at the prison, as well as criticism of Bahrainâ€™s involvement in Saudi Arabiaâ€™s war in Yemen. Rajab was also serving a two-year sentence for criticizing the tiny island kingdom in television interviews.Â
In August 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions found that his imprisonment was not only arbitrary but discriminatory, leading 127 rights groups to call for his immediate, unconditional release.
Before his arrest, Rajab was a prominent human rights defender and outspoken critic of Bahrainâ€™s ruling family. He co-founded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and was heavily involved in the quashed Shiite-led protests against the country’s Sunni-dominated government in 2011. He has been arrested for his activism a number of times since the uprising.Â
Rajabâ€™s release, which came just days before the four-year anniversary of his arrest, was welcomed by rights groups today as a positive step.Â
â€œWhile this is a moment to celebrate, it is impossible to forget that he has spent almost four years unjustly separated from them, or to forget the many other peaceful activists who remain behind bars in Bahrain,â€ Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty Internationalâ€™s Middle East research director, said in a statement.
Fearing a coronavirus outbreak in its overcrowded prisons, Bahrain has freed a number of inmates whose charges werenâ€™t political in recent months. Rajabâ€™s lawyer said today that his client would serve the remainder of his sentence at home.Â
The activistâ€™s release was long overdue, said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.Â
â€œNabeel should not have spent a second in prison, his only â€˜crimeâ€™ being criticism of Bahrainâ€™s government on Twitter,â€ Alwadaei said in a statement.