Imagine a place where your every tweet and facebook post brings you to the attention of the authorities, who seek to control what comes out of your mouth and what you type with your fingers. It’s hard to imagine this living in the UK, when you think many of us, myself included merrily type away on Twitter and Facebook, saying what we like, critiquing who we like and ridiculing all and sundry. Now I am going to tell you the story of Nabeel Rajab, and highlight how freedom of expression which we take for granted is virtually non-existent in Bahrain.
Nabeel Rajab is a man of immense bravery whose name is worth remembering. He holds the following positions, which have made him a magnet for Bahrain’s authorities:
President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Division advisory committee
In a country like Bahrain being such a staunch and outspoken defender of basic human rights, such as being able to critique and ridicule the authorities, read what you like through a free press and vote for who you like in free and fair elections is extremely dangerous, especially when Freedom House’s 2016 report describes Bahrain as not free.
Officially Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy like ours, but that’s where the similarity ends. This is because Bahrain’s 2002 constitution gives the King a significant amount of power, given the fact he appoints Cabinet Ministers, members of the 40 seat Consultative Council (Bahrain’s upper legislature). Although the lower Council of Representatives made up of 40 members elected on 4 years terms is a fig-leaf to democracy, both houses of representatives can only propose legislation, but the cabinet, who owes its livelihood to the King, drafts legislation.
Consequently, there is little protection for dissenting voices. On 13 June 2016 Nabeel Rajab was charged for “publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state” due to interviews he gave to television journalists in 2015. He has been in pre-trial detention ever since. For fake news, I’d suggest inferring anything that the King disproves of, inverting comments erroneously attributed to Voltaire to the following, “I disprove of what you say and I will fight to the death to silence you forever.”
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General hit the nail on the head when she stated in July 2017:
“Imprisoning Nabeel Rajab simply for sharing his opinion is a flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism.”
Rajab’s ordeal has already begun. The Soviet version of justice where you are guilty until proven innocent is alive and kicking in Bahrain, as by July 2017 he had already spent the previous year in pre-trial detention.
In Bahrain the term keyboard warrior means something, as the act of tweeting can be treated like an act of war against the authorities. The tweets which once again bought Rajab to the attention of the authorities and led to a second set of charges that could land him up to 13 years in jail, refer to when he suggested that security forces had tortured detainees in a main prison and tweeted about the Bahrain’s involvement in a military campaign in Yemen, where they are part of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Unsurprisingly, given his isolation with the sword of Damocles being held above him for over a year due to comments he made in media interviews and tweets he typed, Rajab’s health has taken a turn for the worst, meaning that out of the 14 court hearings he has only been able to attend 9. You can read more about his health problems here, which continue up to recently, considering that he was unable to attend a court hearing on 10 July 2017, but was still sentenced to two years in prison in absentia, as highlighted by Index on Censorship.
One of the great things individuals can do in many countries worldwide is express themselves freely without fear of torture, arrest or death. Sadly as the case of Rajab shows, Bahrain is not one of those. This Monday, 11th September 2017, Rajab will face yet another hearing for the crime of expressing his own views, which run counter to what the Bahraini authorities want to hear and could lead to him spending 15 years in jail.
Index on Censorship alongside a host of other human rights groups will be holding a rally on Monday to stand up for his freedom of expression and the freedom of expression of all in Bahrain. I hope many join this solidarity rally with details about the event to be found below, so Rajab is not silenced through his story continuing to be told.
To join the Stand in solidarity with Nabeel Rajab event click here.
Credit to Isa Alhammadi for featured photo of Nabeel Rajab at his office in Bani Jamra, Bahrain.