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Humans

I never intended to be a leader

February 26th, 2015
in:Humans
by:Tamsin Walker
located in:Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
tags:Bahrain, human-rights, Nabeel Rajab

This morning, prominent Bahraini human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was summoned by police and informed he could face a fresh charge of inciting hatred against the regime. Ahead of the second hearing, which is set for the first week of March, he spoke to fairplanet about the deteriorating human rights situation inside his country.

Last month, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months for a tweet in which he allegedly insulted government institutions. He appealed the verdict, and now awaits a new ruling.

How would you describe the situation regarding human rights in Bahrain at the moment? 

It is the worst we have witnessed in 200 years. Shias are being marginalized and repressed. We have the highest percentage of political prisoners, and the second highest number of journalists behind bars in the world. Freedom House deems Bahrain a non-free state, and Reporters Without Borders considers us to be an enemy of the Internet.

There is systematic torture, repression and excessive use of force by police. Since the revolution began in 2011, tens of people have been killed, many of them tortured to death, tens of thousands of have been wounded and held in detention. Currently more than four thousand remain in jail, many of them peaceful political activists, and many of them serving life sentences.

The protests have been going on for 4 years now, are demonstrators getting tired?

They are not getting tired, but they are changing their tactics. There are fewer people protesting now than in 2011, because several laws have been passed to make it impossible for hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate together. But what we have is daily protests in the villages.

Has the message at the heart of the 2011 protests changed during the past four years?

We are still fighting for the same cause, and still insist on political and human rights reform. What has changed is that we started out saying we would not criticize Western governments, because it might send the wrong message. But that approach does not seem to have had a positive result. In fact, some Western governments have increased their business with Bahrain.

Any countries in particular?

The UK is the worst in that regard. It doesn’t only support the Bahraini government, but does PR for it, misleads the world about our movement and talks about Bahrain implementing reforms, which is nonsense. We don’t believe the UK government wants to see democracy in Bahrain, and we are paying the price for that hypocrisy. As long as they continue to do business there, repression will continue and will get worse. Their business is stained with our children’s blood.

How do you plan to get your message across to London?

We want to tell the UK public that their government is cheating them when it talks about reform in Bahrain. We want to tell them we’re fighting for the same democratic values they fought for years ago, and that we want the same justice, equality and values in our society that they have in theirs. They have a system that respects justice, and we want to use that positively to make people and human rights groups aware of what is going on.

You have become a figurehead for the protest movement, which must, in turn, make you more vulnerable to punishment. Do you ever think of stopping, or taking a back seat?

It is too late now. I know there is a price and one day that might be my life, but I am willing to pay it. I did not start the movement, I did not want to be at the head of the movement, and I don’t want people to talk about me in that way. I don’t consider myself to be a leader, but a human rights activist who speaks on behalf of people who cannot talk. I see myself as someone who exposes the crimes, violations and hypocrisy of foreign governments, and shames them for what they are doing. And that is very dangerous.

I have spent more than two years in jail, I have been put under travel bans several times, my family has been harassed, their businesses have been targeted and boycotted, my wife has been harassed, has lost her job and my children have been removed from school, but they all believe that is the price of the work I’m doing. They’re all willing to continue making sacrifices in order for me to pass on my message.

Whether you chose it or not, you have become a role model for the movement. What is your message to fellow protesters?

I am advocating for peaceful resistance. Some revolutions take tens of years, which is why I am trying to remind everyone that we should continue peacefully. Without people like me the situation would be more violent, there would be more hopelessness, more blood and more killing. And that is something I hate and don’t want to see happen. Once you speak out on behalf of others, it eases the tension and frustration they carry inside them, and helps prevent them turning to violence and extremism.

That is quite a load to carry. Do you see yourself as a man of particular strength?

I never intended to be a leader. I don’t think I have greater strength than others, but I do have determination, and I speak from the heart. I will not allow fear to stop me speaking out. I believe bad guys and dictators should be challenged, and hypocrites and people who are doing bad business, should be shamed. I am now known internationally for my work and I try to use my influence to inform the international community about the misery of my nation, and to shout at those who choose to be silent and embarrass those who put their own interests ahead of our human rights.

You were arrested again in October and given a six-month sentence, which you have appealed. The new hearing is set for March 4th, do you have a sense of what that verdict will be?

I don’t think there will be any change, and I’m afraid there will be more cases like that too, because all human rights activists either end up in jail or in exile. Maybe I will be one of very few to remain in the country and speaking out, but I don’t think they would let me do that for long. I think they have a plan for me, besides the six months, but they don’t know yet, or I don’t know yet what it is.

Two days after this interview, Nabeel Rajab was summoned by police and faces arrest on separate charges of inciting hatred against the Bahraini government.

 

Article written by:
Tamsin Walker
Author
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Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab
Bahraini protesters hold up placards during an anti-government rally in solidarity with jailed human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab on March 22, 2013 in the village of Belad Al Qadeem, in a suburb of Manama. The International Federation for Human Rights says around 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since violence first broke out on February 14, 2011 when thousands of protesters camped out in Manama's Pearl Square, taking their cue from the Arab Spring uprisings.
A Bahraini young boy shows a poster asking for the release of jailed human right activist Nabeel Rajab during an anti-regime protest in the village of al-Malkiyah, South of Manama, on August 27, 2013. National dialogue launched in February will resume on August 28, 2013 after a summer break, aimed at resolving Bahrain's political deadlock since its 2011 Shiite-led revolt.

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