Some Bahrain Trouble-Makers Just Won’t Mend Ways

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Who hasn’t heard of Nabeel Rajab in the Arabian Gulf? Ever since he set up the so-called Bahrain Centre for Human Rights some 14 years ago, this trouble-maker has been in and out of detention, jail and courtrooms [where the representatives of western embassies are invariably present] with royal pardons thrown in for good measure.

One would therefore like to question the US State Department’s motive for standing up for a man of Rajab’s profile in the name of human rights and seeking his immediate release without taking even an elementary step to find out why he has been put on trial. And the BBC has gone to town tom-tom-ing about the story.

His track record has indeed been colourful. Currently he is facing trial for writing an op-ed in The New York Times which claimed the island has a humongous number of 4,000 political prisoners while he is also simultaneously facing trial for recycling pictures of bloodshed in Palestine and Syria on Twitter claiming these were images of Saudi-led military action in Yemen [of which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates too are part].

Rumour-mongering is his forte and while he runs provocative statements and images on social media, he is quick to disown them when confronted in the courtroom. He even disowned his culprit Twitter account. He has disowned the New York Times article too. Yet, the BBC report on US concern about him gives the impression the letter is actually by him. He is also facing charges of insulting the Interior Ministry and the jail authorities when he claimed that the attempts to control jail riots were an act of torture. He yet again went into denial mode in the court.

“I was implicated in the case because I was part of a petition signed by human rights activists to improve governments which was sent to US President Obama. I was pressured not to sign it but I still did,” he was quoting by a Bahrain daily as stating.

He has taken part in illegal rallies, subverted security, insulted government institutions and incited people to join unlawful gatherings. He even went to the extent of making the bizarre claim that the Bahraini extremists were joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria thanks to the Bahraini security services! He was sent to jail for six months for this but was given a royal pardon.

A majority of the charges against him were proved in courts of law with western diplomatic representatives present as witnesses to the proceedings, so the rights bodies ensconced in the West cannot claim these were in-camera proceedings. Yet the US State Department wants this human rights activist released immediately.

The point is that the US- or Europe-based rights bodies or government departments cannot be rushing to defend every dissident in the headlines without listening to the other side of the argument. And cannot be making summary statements without obtaining reports on the ground reality and thorough inquiries by their embassies. More so when their own copy-books are strewn with instances where dissidents have been given short shrift on specious grounds and locked up without trial.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.