Tortured & silenced: Bahrain activist still intent on bringing greater freedoms
It has been a long two years for Nabeel Rajab, who lived in virtual solitary confinement for most of his time in prison, for simply speaking out about the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters who were merely wanting to make their voices heard.
“I was kept separate in a separate building for two years, just to make sure that I do not connect with the other prisoners,” Rajab said, who helped to found the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002.
“There were very few people who were with me in that separate building. They were people who did not speak my language or people who were charged with criminal charges, which was completely different from what I was charged with.”
He added that he was forbidden from discussing anything political or about the human rights situation in Bahrain, including with his family by telephone. Even after his release, the authorities were still worried that the human rights activist could prove to be a threat.
“I am not aware about what is happening on the outside and that is why I am not speaking much since I came outside. After two years, I have written a lot of things whilst being in jail, but even these were taken away from me at the last moment before I came out,” Rajab said.
— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) May 24, 2014
Despite his harrowing experience behind bars, Rajab, who lost a number of close relatives, including an aunt and uncle during his time in prison. However, his biggest bereavement was the passing away of his mother. He was allowed out of jail for three days to bury his mother, but after just one day, he was ordered back to jail and was not allowed to attend a condolence gathering.
Bahraini authorities claimed that Rajab was not allowed to stay out of prison longer because he had violated the terms of his release and "delivered a speech inciting mourners to stage illegal protests.” However Rajab argued that his speech was a "peaceful expression of opinion." However, despite huge personal setbacks and turmoil, he has no intention of giving up his struggle to make Bahrain a more democratic country.
“I know this is the cost of the struggle in this part of the world and I am planning to continue my struggle, no matter how much is the cost, knowing that all the countries have freedom and democracy today. Maybe some people have to pay this cost in order to achieve democracy and human rights and I am one of many people in this country who is willing to pay this cost for my nation and my second generation to have democracy, justice and human rights,” the 49-year-old stated.
Rajab was able to carry out his human rights work in Bahrain largely untroubled for nine years after setting up the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. However, following the uprising in the Gulf state in 2011, he started to speak out against the regime and the brutal crackdown on protestors.
In the spring of 2012, he was arrested after appearing on Julian Assange's show that was aired here on RT. In August later that year, Rajab was sentenced to three-year's in prison for organizing and participating in gatherings, that authorities say were aimed at overthrowing the Monarchy.
On the whole Rajab says he was treated well physically and was only tortured on one occasion. Mentally he found things much tougher, being placed in solitary confinement almost naked alongside a dead animal. Despite his horrors, he says others were even more unfortunate.
“I have witnessed other people being tortured in front of my eyes. I have seen people being tortured by the police and I made a lot of noise while I was there. I sent a complaint to the United Nations and they finally told me that they are looking into those accusations,” the human rights activist added.
He believes that the plight of political prisoners in Bahrain has received little to no interest in the west and he implores that more should be done.
“We have been ignored by the international community because Bahrain is with the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, which has a lot of influence in the west,” Rajab said.
He believes greater democracy and freedoms are a long way off, as the ruling family has no desire to change the current situation, while they are not willing to engage in a proper and credible dialogue with the opposition. This he says will only inflame an already volatile situation.
“When I was sent to jail, there was no violence. I tweeted that I have said to the government that if you take peaceful people like me, who advocate peaceful gatherings and put them in jail, then you will face people who commit violence. All human rights activists in Bahrain are behind bars and this is why you see such violence.”
After his release on Saturday, he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters and paid a visit to his mother's grave. However, he says that the support that he receives is a decisive factor in helping him to keep up the struggle to make Bahrain a more democratic country.
“All the aims which I am holding and the values that I am fighting for, it keeps me going, knowing that a lot of people are waiting for me, a lot of people need me to be out, need me to be focused and strong. I will be there for my people.”