Leading Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab arrested for highlighting prison abuse
Head of Bahrain Center for Human Rights detained by police after speaking out over allegations of human rights abuses after riots in Jaw prison
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Thursday 2 April 2015 19.08 BST
The Bahraini authorities have arrested a leading human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, who has spoken out against a recent outbreak of violence in one of the country’s most notorious prisons.
Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was taken into custody on Thursday after a group of security forces surrounded his house in Bani Jamra, west of the Bahraini capital, Manama, his family confirmed to the Guardian. The police carried a warrant for his arrest.
“The special forces are all around my house and they want me to go out,” he tweeted just before his arrest. Rajab had highlighted the alleged mistreatment and torture of inmates at Jaw prison in a series of interviews and articles.
Nicholas McGeehan, of the campaigning group Human Rights Watch, said: “The Bahraini authorities should be investigating the allegations of torture in Jaw prison, not arresting people who’ve been researching and reporting it.”
“Few prisoners were left unwounded by the end of the siege. Their bodies are burned by grenade explosions, their limbs broken by frequent beating, and they have been left without medical attention,” Rajab said in an account of what happened during the unrest for the Huffington Post.
“Since the assault, all visitation has been suspended. The government says this is because of damage to the facilities, but the visitation centre was not damaged by the attack. More likely, it is to suppress the prisoners from telling their stories and showing their injuries,” he wrote.
Rajab was initially arrested in October on accusations of posting derogatory tweets about a group of his countrymen allegedly cooperating with Islamic State (Isis). He had posted a series of tweets in reaction to a video released by Isis that featured a group of Bahraini men talking about their cooperation with the terrorist organisation.
He was subsequently released on bail last year but was sentenced to six months in prison in January after being found guilty of defaming the government. Activists said at the time that the Bahraini authorities were also furious with Rajab because he had spoken out about rights abuses in his country during visits to a number of western countries.
“Prince Zaid, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said last month that a government which arrests people for a tweet is weak,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. “The government of Bahrain has shown its weakness once again.”
The London-based Index on Censorship also condemned Rajab’s detention on Thursday. “Bahrain must stop the harassment of Nabeel Rajab,” said the group’s chief executive, Jodie Ginsberg. “The country has committed publicly to respecting human rights, but continues to flout its international commitments by denying its citizens the right to peaceful protest, peaceful assembly and to free expression.”
The US-based Human Rights First said the activist’s arrest marked an alarming setback for Bahrain. “This is a brazen move to openly target a dissident leader at a time when the Bahraini government is pushing to have remaining US arms restrictions to the kingdom lifted and preparing to host a major Formula One race in two weeks,” Human Rights First’s director, Brian Dooley, said.
“The regime has made clear that muted criticism from the US and elsewhere doesn’t stop it from targeting its human rights leaders. Washington should impose consequences for these violations.”
FIDH/OMCT/ECDHR/BCHR/BIRD/ADHRB joint letter to the EU on the arrest on Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain: here.