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Nabeel Rajab dramatically deteriorating in prison: HRW

Bahrain activist has had two operations and suffered heart problems and depression in 10 months of captivity
Rajab has been held since June 2016, after criticising Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen (screengrab)

Prominent Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab is suffering from dramatically deteriorating health after 10 months of arbitrary detention, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The outspoken government critic has been held since his arrest in June 2016 for tweeting criticism of Saudi air strikes against Yemen.

"Filing criminal charges against Nabeel Rajab solely for his peaceful criticism and then refusing to free him while the courts cavalierly postpone hearings shows Bahrain’s contempt for the most elemental human rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

"Nabeel Rajab should not be in jail, and his deteriorating health underscores the injustice of arbitrarily detaining him."

Since being held, this time around, Rajab has undergone two operations, and suffered two bouts of heart palpitations that required emergency medical care, HRW says.

He has also developed a range of other medical conditions, including a low white blood cell count and depression. 

Rajab had previously been imprisoned several times for his part in protests against the government of Bahrain, after the eruption of the Arab Spring in early 2011.

His next trial hearing is scheduled for 17 May, and if ultimately convicted on all counts – the charge sheet includes offending a foreign country, and offending national institutions, for his comments about the domestic judicial system – he could face 18 years behind bars.

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"The charges against Rajab are a clear violation of his right to free expression, protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has ratified," HRW said in a statement.

Speaking to Middle East Eye this week, another Bahraini activist, and a relative of Rajab, warned civilians might lose hope of a "peaceful reconciliation" if authorities do not soon ease up on silencing dissent. 

"In countries where freedom of expression is restricted, where there is political, social and economic exclusion for the majority of the population, where there is no space for civil society, obviously the frustration levels grow," Maytham al-Salman said.