October 6, 2012

Nabeel Rajab Starts Hunger Strike

The prison saga of Nabeel Rajab, one of Bahrain's leading human rights activists, has taken a new turn at an old tactic. Rajab was granted a temporary release on Thursday to attend the funeral of his mother, where he delivered a pro-democracy speech to his supporters and urged them to forsake surrender.

"I want and wish for all of you to go to the capital Manama, and everywhere else to fight for democracy, respect, and other rights. We will prove to them (the government) that even if they imprison us, kill us or our families, we will return and we will win this battle against their cruel policies, God willing."

This speech may or may not have cost Rajab's attendance at his mother's three-day condolence gathering. One could argue that monarchy wouldn't have freed him any longer than necessary, speech or no speech, and 24 hours is too long for King Hamad's watch. Regardless, the monarchy's public prosecution team claims that "convict Nabeel Rajab" violated the conditions of his release and won't be afforded future privileges. Such a ruling is understandable in a contextless vacuum. In reality, however, Rajab is being imprisoned and abused strictly for his political beliefs and the pro-democracy movement that he has organized over the years. He is a convict only to Bahrain's autocracy, a minority of Bahrainis, the Saudi Kingdom and, due to association and inaction, the U.S. government.

By "inciting mourners to stage illegal protests," chief prosecutor Wael Buallay means to say that any protest against the King is considered illegal. Opposition protests have already been banned in Manama, a feeble attempt to control the movements of Bahrain's uprising, and any protester (peaceful or not) runs into trouble with their anti-king sloganeering. Zainab Al-Khawaja has been repeatedly arrested and beaten by female police officers for staging her peaceful, one-woman protests against King Hamad. In sum, the monarchy continues to take the position that Bahrain isn't experiencing a pro-democracy uprising at all, but a foreign-directed campaign of terror.

Now Rajab has decided to undertake his own hunger strike, following the path of his fellow inmate Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, in protest of his own conditions and Bahrain's repressive environment. He will be lucky to receive any tangible help from Washington, which has refused to or is unable to secure his release nearly 100 days after his July 12th arrest. Public statements remain scarce and expressing "private concern" is more akin to a coverup. Expecting assistance from the U.S. is an exercise in futility; writing to one of the few Congressional representatives willing to defend Rajab is pointless. The only option for an American and non-Bahrainis is continual awareness and mobilization in support of pro-democracy movements such as Bahrain's.

As for the monarchy itself, a long-term threat to public security stems from Rajab's unjust imprisonment - not his freedom.

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