Bahrain sinks deeper in repression of all dissident voices

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© Le Monde

Nabeel Rajab, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH has always viewed his commitment through the lens of Human Rights. From the defence of migrant workers in the Gulf to the fight against torture, he has always made certain his struggles were known beyond the borders. But 2011 was a turning point. Demonstrations broke out in Bahrain in the wake of the Arab uprisings. The February 14th Movement, reduced by intellectual inertia solely to the attempt by the Shiite majority to overthrow Sunni power, provoked an armed Saudi intervention, under cover of the mandate of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in order to keep the regime in place.

The country, already barely open to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, has since that time closed itself into a rationale of repression that is leading nowhere. More than 4,000 "opponents" have been arrested and sentenced, most of whom for only having asked for political reform. Prohibition of political movements and opposition media, arrest of Human Rights defenders, and torture: the members of the National Security Agency (NSA), who commit most of these abuses, enjoy complete impunity. The regime, which blindly follows the hawkish leanings of its Saudi neighbour and protector, has long since abandoned its own free will; it also seems to have lost all sense of proportion, at the risk of hurling its people headlong onto an uncontrolled and deadly trajectory.

Nabeel could not avoid being swept up in this wave. He was first imprisoned in 2012 for tweets allegedly “insulting” to the Minister of the Interior and was held in prison for two years, until May 2014. Following that, he was arrested and sentenced to prison again several times, and then forbidden to leave the country. He was again arrested in June 2016. Nabeel has spent more than four of the past six years behind bars. His determination, however, remains intact.

Nabeel has been accused of and prosecuted for "insulting public institutions and the army". He has also denounced - again using Twitter, as well as on several TV shows - the intervention of Bahrain in Yemen, as it sided with Saudi Arabia, and is being prosecuted for “disclosure of false rumours during wartime”. He is also being prosecuted for having published two op-eds in 2016, one in the New York Times and the other in Le Monde.

Journalists and NGOs are systematically denied requests to visit Nabeel, as well as many others. Last month, the Bahraini authorities denied me entrance to the country to visit Nabeel and other imprisoned Human Rights defenders. This decision is highly worrying, particularly in view of the fact that Nabeel’s health is declining. After a hospitalisation, his conditions in prison are now worse than ever: he was beaten on his arrival, and wakened and searched in the middle of the night; his clothes and toiletries were confiscated and they shaved his head. He is not allowed to speak to the other prisoners and his family is no longer allowed to visit him. A new verdict has just been announced: his two-year prison sentence for having spoken with journalists has been upheld, and his appeal has been rejected.

Nabeel is not alone in this situation. We urge the Bahraini judiciary to release everyone whose only alleged wrongdoing has been to call for democratic reforms

As Bahrain sinks into a sterile logic of political-military confrontation against Shiite Iran and its allies, Nabeel has always refused to fall into the trap of religious-communitarianism. This is precisely what is disturbing about him. Far from conforming to a narrow vision of regional relations, Nabeel has always striven to uphold the universality of Human Rights. The president of BCHR does not fit into the box commonly accepted in this region, and for this singularity, Nabeel Rajab represents a threat not only to Bahrain, but also to the many other authoritarian regimes in this part of the world.

In light of the especially alarming situation in the Gulf region at this time, the international community, especially the States that maintain trade relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia by selling them arms, must at all cost re-examine their engagements in this sector. The international community needs to levy greater pressure and mobilise more actively, to ensure that Bahrain and its activists are no longer forgotten.

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