8-28-2012By Brian Dooley
Human Rights Defenders
Nabeel Rajab’s house is the last one on the street at the outskirts of the village of Bani Jamrah, near the tip of Bahrian’s western shore. Many of the rabbits that once bounced around Nabeel’s front door have been killed by frequent teargas attacks on and near his home where his wife and his children, 15 year-old Adam and 10 year-old Malak, now await his release from prison.
Nabeel - a man known for living on the edge, pushing the boundaries of civil disobedience - is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for his part in what the regime calls “illegal assemblies.” Though Nabeel has a reputation as one of the region’s most prominent human rights defenders - a fierce and unrelenting critic of the Bahrain regime’s violent crackdown - in person, he’s a generally relaxed guy with a wry wit.
On August 16, Nabeel was sentenced to serve three years in prison in a decision that shocked human rights observers around the world. In response to that sentence, his wife Sumaya has written an open letter to President Obama calling on the U.S. government to press for Nabeel’s release. As she wrote, “Victimized people of Bahrain are calling upon the universal values and principles that the United States is embracing.” The U.S. State Department has expressed disappointment with the verdict, but has yet to clearly and publicly call for his release.
Nabeel’s appeal verdict, set for September 10, will be scrutinized as a signal of what the Bahrain regime intends to do with hime and other human rights defenders. Ahead of that proceeding, the United States should publicly call for his unconditional release and remind the Bahraini authorities that they have obligations to protect and promote human rights defenders, not harass and imprison them.
As Sumaya’s letter concluded, “I, our son Adam and our daughter Malak, hope that you will take our appeal in consideration because more silence means more abuses and more atrocities. We understand that United States’ attention may currently be focused on HR [human rights] abuses in other countries, but we believe that democracy, freedom and the respect of human rights is one path for all nations without any exception.”