Jailed for tweeting in Bahrain

Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab’s crime was criticizing the government.

Court in Manama, Bahrain 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)
Court in Manama, Bahrain 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)
More than a dozen security officials, their faces covered with black ski masks, converged on human rights activist Nabeel Rajab’s Manama home on Monday and forcibly placed him under arrest, according to his family. Police cars surrounded the house while a helicopter hovered overhead. His arrest came after the 5th lower criminal court convicted Rajab of libel and sentenced him to three months in prison.
“They want to stop him from talking – they are really arresting him for criticizing the prime minister,” Nabeel’s wife Sumayya Rajab told The Media Line. “This is not fair. Killers are left outside the jail, and he is being jailed for a tweet.”
She said Nabeel was allowed a short telephone conversation from jail. He asked for a blanket, clothes and toiletries, but when they arrived at the prison, guards refused to accept the items.
Rajab heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. He has a popular Twitter account with more than 158,000 followers.
On June 2, Rajab posted six tweets criticizing Bahraini Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has been the unelected Prime Minister of Bahrain since 1971, accusing Al Khalifa of corruption and calling on him to step down. Several members of the government, including Adel Dlaifle, the former officer of the national security apparatus, who is accused of allegedly torturing political activists and has threatened Rajab personally, accused Rajab of libel.
The punishment for libel is almost always a fine and Rajab’s lawyer appealed the sentence.
Rajab has already been detained twice: for three weeks last month, and for more than three weeks in May.   “It’s bad to have my Dad in prison, but we are proud of him,” his son Adam Rajab, 14, told The Media Line. “We want a good government and we want democracy. The prime minister has been here for 42 years. It’s time for him to leave.”
Rajab’s wife Sumayya said that even her 10-year old daughter, Malak, tried to confront the security officers who came to arrest her father.
“We are not afraid of you or your gun,” she told them, according to Sumayya. “But you must be afraid if you are covering your face.”
Last year, there were large demonstrations in Bahrain against the ruling government, similar to popular demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. Activists called it the “Pearl Revolution,” since it centered around the Pearl roundabout in Bahrain’s capital Manama. Rajab has been a key activist in the demonstrations in which 50 people were killed. Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help the Bahraini government quash the uprising.
There are also growing sectarian tensions in Bahrain, where King Hamad bin Khalifa, and his uncle the prime minister are Sunni Muslims, while the majority of the populace are Shi’ite. The split dates back to a feud over who would succeed the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century.
Shi’ites in Bahrain say they face widespread discrimination. They are not allowed to work in the police or serve in the army, and pro-Shi’ite websites are blocked by the government.
“In my office, only Sunnis are promoted, even if they don’t have any qualifications,” Rajab’s wife Sumaya, who works as a secretary in the Ministry of Transportation said. “Three months ago I stopped going to work in protest and now I have a case with a lawyer.”
The international community has failed to intervene, or even criticize, the government of Bahrain. The King is seen as an important Western ally, and the US Fifth Fleet makes its home in Bahrain.
Rajab’s colleagues say his arrest is meant as a message to other activists.
“They arrested him to send a message to all activists that you will get arrested like him if you talk to the media,’ Sa’id Yousif, the head of documentation at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told The Media Line. “Every day we have protests but journalists are banned from entering Bahrain.”
He said that although martial law has not been officially imposed by the government, security forces act as if it has been.
“Every night they raid homes without warning and set up checkpoints,” he said. “They are trying to round up activists and anyone who speaks to the media is interrogated.”
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights strongly condemned Rajab’s arrest.
“We believe strongly that his arrest is part of an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment against him in order to prevent him from continuing his legitimate and peaceful human rights work,” the Center said in a statement.
Nabil Rajab’s family says they know he will survive the ordeal of prison and emerge even stronger.
“He is very strong and can manage himself in any situation,” said Sumayya. “We just want freedom.”
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