Two years ago I was sentenced to three years in prison for three different charges. These charges included, 'calling for unauthorized marches through social networking sites', 'participating in an illegal assembly' and 'participating in an illegal gathering calling for a march without prior notification to the authorities. I was released on 24 May 2014, after serving two years out of my original three year prison sentence.
Relieved about my release, I spent a lot of my summer outside Bahrain. From late July to September 2014, I toured Europe, where I spoke to journalists, human rights activists and foreign ministries on Bahrain's ongoing human rights issues. I also had the opportunity to speak at the European Parliament in Brussels and attend the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. After this three month advocacy tour I returned home to Bahrain on 30 September. However, less than 24 hours after returning to Bahrain I received a written summons to appear at the Electronic Crimes Unit of the Criminal Investigation Directorate in Manama, where the police arrested me. Allegedly over a tweet I made a few days earlier:
many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator
-- Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) September 28, 2014
The charges brought against me were for insulting the Ministry of Interior, and later the Ministry of Defence brought a second charge against me for the same tweet. Each charge carries a maximum of a 3-year prison sentence and if I am found guilty; I face a total of 6 years in prison. My next and final hearing will be held on 20 January, so I am not safe yet - but at least the courts have released me on bail. The tweet was the excuse for my arrest, but I believe the real reason was my advocacy activities in Europe. Originally Bahraini authorities released me without a travel ban, but a few hours after my release the court changed its decision and imposed a travel ban on me restricting me from leaving the country. The court informed the Bahraini newspapers, and I learned of the travel ban through the media. Up until now, the courts have still not formally informed me about the travel ban.
The October Detention
Almost all political detainees awaiting trial in Bahrain are kept at the Dry Dock detention center, but I was kept in a separate place during my detention. To my knowledge the facility where I was being kept is mainly used for detainees on a temporary basis. In fact most of the detainees I met there were only there for a few days, before being transferred to another prison. The Bahraini authorities kept me in this temporary prison because they wanted to distance me from other prisoners. This was not new -they kept me separate from other political detainees during my previous 2 years in prison as well.
In Manama on the day of my release (2 November), but the trial continues. Courtesy of Ahmed Al-Fardan
When I was released on bail on 2 November, I think what made the difference was my advocacy tour throughout Europe. In my time abroad I met with other human rights activists, and I talked to many journalists from all over Europe. In some countries I met with Foreign Ministries and local NGOs to talk about my friend Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and his daughters Maryam, who was in detention in Bahrain in September and was recently released. As well as her sister Zainab, who is 9 months pregnant and currently in prison. I also spoke about other arbitrary detained prisoners in Bahrain and their plight.
I am grateful to all the countries and individuals who called for my release and whose embassies attended my court hearings, including the UK, US, Italy and France. I have invaluable friends outside Bahrain. Some of those who publically called for my immediate release include the Norwegians, the US State Department, individual congressmen, fifty-seven members of the European Parliament and thirteen Members of Parliament from the UK wrote to the King on my behalf.
The British Government in its entirety did not publically call for my release like the United States and others but stated that due legal process and international norms of justice should be adhered to.
Bahrain and the West
I am not saying all this to boast of the international interest in my case, or to criticise the British for their response to my case. The responses to my case reflect the viewpoints of the different Western countries on the current human right situation in Bahrain. My case is not special, and courts have practiced their method of criminalising human rights work and political activism on more than 2,000 other cases that came before me.
With so many human rights defenders and political activist currently in prison, I must return to the UK's agenda again, which pushes for the adherence of legal processes but fails to push international standards. The legal process has been twisted in Bahrain, and rather than reforming the judiciary system, the Government has introduced several laws since 2011 which do not respect human rights, which can be interpreted extremely broadly to target human rights advocates.
Some of my dearest friends, colleagues and family members have urged me to leave Bahrain and defend human rights from outside. But I could not cope with that kind of self-imposed exile: I need to be among the people of Bahrain and to live in Bahrain. It is my home, and when I am home I feel strongest. For that reason, I do continue to risk my freedom for a better Bahrain. But I am not alone: all detainees related to the political crisis in Bahrain - over 3,000 - share my feelings and are in worse situations. We should be fearful of reporting human rights violations. Further, it is not just we Bahrainis who call for reform, but the European Union, the United Nations and the United States do too. Their calls for my release are a reflection of that desire.
The European Union and especially the United Kingdom have a great influence on Bahrain. For a long time - going back before 2011 - we Bahrainis have struggled for a democratic political system, one which respects human rights and allows people to live freely, with strong governmental institutions and an independent judiciary. Our desire to join the democratic world and emulate their progress should be a reason for the British government to stand with us in our struggle for democracy, rather than assisting a sectarian dictatorship. It can be difficult to understand why the British do it every day the UK runs into more problems with their relationship with this Bahraini government. Standing up for and defending the current Bahraini government damages Britain's image and reputation as a democratic country that is supposed to be respectful of human rights.
Human rights defenders are not against the British, European, or American interests in Bahrain. Their interests align with a democratic Bahrain, and we should strive to have business relations which take into account human rights. We would just like these countries to hold Bahrain accountable for human rights violations and to urge the Bahraini government to reform and adhere to democratic ideals.
I am free for now, but my trial will resume in January. Until that time, I intend to resume my human rights work. Speaking out to western democracies and to the UN system makes up a big part of my work, and it has an effect on the situation in Bahrain, because Bahrain and its allies depend on each other greatly. It's for that reason I focus a lot of my effort on asking the West - the United Kingdom first among them - to look at Bahrain, the government and its human rights situation, and see that it is in everyone's interests and in particular that the state of Bahrain should be founded on a respect for human rights principles. I conclude by saying I will continue to peacefully defend the human rights and civil liberties of all the Bahraini people without any discrimination.