Bahrain releases leading activist from jail
Published Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Bahrain released from jail on Wednesday leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, his lawyer said, his second stint behind bars for Twitter remarks in the last two months.
Rajab – head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) – was released three weeks after his arrest for tweeting insults offensive to the people of the province of Muharaq, with his next hearing to be heard on July 9, according to his lawyer.
In a statement earlier this month, prosecutors said they received complaints that Rajab "talked on social networks about the people of Muharaq in a way that questioned their patriotism and insulted them."
But Maryam Al-Khawaja of the BCHR accused the government of using the tweet as an excuse to detain Rajab, who has been a key figure in Bahrain's pro-democracy protests over the past year.
"I think they're using that as an excuse to go after him. I don't think he in any way meant to insult the people, his comments were directed at the prime minister," she said.
Rajab has been continuously harassed by authorities in recent months over public statements and tweets he has made in support of the pro-democracy movement, comments deemed offensive by the regime.
This is the second time Rajab has been arrested and then released in the last two months.
He was first taken into custody on May 5 for posting tweets deemed insulting to security forces. He was released on bail on May 28 and re-arrested on June 6.
Rajab is now on trial for four separate charges – two for posting comments on Twitter deemed insulting to the regime and the people of Muharaq and two others for protests.
Al-Khawaja believes the lack of international attention has enabled the Bahraini regime to crackdown on Rajab and other activists.
"There hasn't really been an international response to his arrest, and so [the government] has found it comfortable to go after him and other activists," she told Al-Akhbar.
"When Nabeel was beaten in January, you immediately saw a statement from the US State Department, you saw a visit from the US embassy to his house. This time he gets arrested, kept in prison for three weeks, then released, then rearrested, and there's not so much a comment from the United States," she said.
Regime pushing sectarian agenda
Al-Khawaja was also critical of the Bahraini regime as well as media outlets for attempting to turn the country's popular uprising into a sectarian issue, highlighting that Rajab has previously worked on human rights cases for Salafis – an extreme branch of Sunni Islam.
"They're trying as much as they can to make him seem more sectarian, because they're trying to turn it into a sectarian issue," she said.
"It's hard to do that when Rajab has [previously] worked on cases of Salafis," she added.
Bahrain has faced mass pro-democracy protests since February 2011. The ruling monarchy invited Saudi troops into the country in March 2011, which culminated in a brutal and violent crackdown on protests.
But protests resurfaced later in the year, and have persisted ever since, although the regime refuses to compromise on demands for democratic reform.
Officers charged with murder
In a separate announcement Tuesday, the government sought to placate protesters by pressing murder charges against police officers in their role in the crackdown.
The regime said the kingdom's High Criminal Court has filed murder charges against three police officers, including one lieutenant, for their role in the deaths of three people during last year's protests.
The policemen were originally charged with manslaughter but "are now facing murder charges in the deaths of Ali Ahmed Abdulla, Isa Abdul Hassan and Hani Abdulaziz Goma in three separate incidents," the statement said.
Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of seven years in Bahrain, according to the statement. Murder charges carry a sentence of "life imprisonment or even the death penalty."
If found guilty, the policemen "are likely to receive the toughest penalties allowed by law," the statement added.
A fourth policeman was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting a protester, but remains in hospital after sustaining serious injuries in a bomb attack on police on April 24, it added.
Lack of coverage
Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet, and is a strategic US ally on the doorstep of Iran.
Amnesty says 60 people have been killed since the protests erupted in February 2011 in the Gulf kingdom, while activists put the death toll at over 80.
Despite ongoing protests, Bahrain still fails to make it into world headlines, largely overshadowed by the excessive violence in Syria, Al-Khawaja admitted.
"We've been trying to get Bahrain in the news. But when you have several hundred beaten on the streets in Bahrain compared to 50 people killed in Syria, you can't compare," she said.
"Also, internationally the idea of peaceful protest has lost its glamor, it's not something that everyone wants to report on any more, it's become old news. All that combined, it makes it really difficult to get media attention on Bahrain."