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Activism for Justice

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BahrainActivism has many forms. OWS protesters want long denied social change. Palestinians want to live free. So do Bahrainis.

Imprisoned former Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president Abdulhadi Alkhawaja risks death for freedom. Current president Nabeel Rajab matches his commitment. As a result, he's been repressively targeted.

Several times he was arrested and tortured for exposing human rights abuses and expressing his views freely. On May 5, he was targeted again. On arrival home at Bahrain's airport, security forces seized and detained him. Prior to his arrest, he said:

"Given that Bahrain in essence lacks a judiciary system that is independent and/or fair, and is far from being in line with international standards of a fair trial, I have decided to boycott the trial against myself."

"The judiciary system in Bahrain, today, is a tool used against human rights defenders and people calling for democracy and justice."

On May 6, Rajab's first hearing was held. He's charged with "participating in illegal assembly and calling other to join."

In late April, he was questioned about "insulting the statutory bodies." Expect more charges to follow. The Al Khalifa dictatorship wants rid of him. Perhaps now they intend a final blow.

Justice in Bahrain is prohibited. State terror is policy. Activists for change are targeted, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned after kangaroo judicial proceedings. Rajab faced it earlier. He's threatened again now.

Rajab's Background

For years, he courageously defended human rights. In secondary school, he explained two formative incidents, saying:

"Two events affected me most, one when a colleague dropped himself from second floor to escape under-covered police who stormed school."

"The second incident was when a dear teacher was arrested. That is when my voice started to rise and become annoying. I was caught while writing apolitical human rights statements on school walls and was given the choice to either be submitted to police or to switch schools. I was the top student back then, but I choose to switch to Sheikh Abdul Aziz school."

During college, he focused largely on studies. Nonetheless, he challenged all forms of injustice. He later got involved in international campaigns.

From late 1994 - to early 2001, Bahrain experienced earlier uprisings. Rajab actively participated. In 1999, he and others co-founded the Bahrain Human Rights Society.

In 2002, he, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, and others co-founded BCHR. Authorities terrorized its members for years. Nonetheless, it remains viable. It's dedicated to working for:

"a prosperous democratic country free of discrimination and other violations of human rights" and says its mission is to "encourage and support individuals and groups to be proactive in the protection of their own and others' rights; and to struggle to promote democracy and human rights in accordance with international norms."

Its four objectives include:

(1) Promoting civil, political, and economic freedom.

(2) Ending racial discrimination.

(3) Disseminating human rights culture.

(4) Supporting and protecting victims' rights.

Rajab now leads its struggle for justice. He's also involved with other Bahrain and international human rights groups. They include the National Committee of Victims of Torture-Bahrain, Committee of the Unemployed and Underpaid, Committee on Decent Housing, Committee of the Bedouin, Committee to Defend Detained Human Rights Activists, and Migrant Workers Protection Group.

From October 2009 to October 2011, he was chairman of CARAM, a Malaysian migrant human rights group. In December 2009, he became a Human Rights Watch Board of Advisors of the Middle East and North Africa member.

In July 2010, the International Federation for Human Rights appointed him Deputy Secretary General.

In 2011, the Woodrow Wilson International Center's History and Public Policy Program gave him its Ion Ratiu Democracy Award because he "worked tirelessly and at considerable personal peril to advance the cause of democratic freedoms and the civil rights of Bahraini citizens."

Last year, he also won the Silbury Prize. It was given to "facilitate his ongoing humanitarian and human rights work." The Silbury Fund is a UK based charity focused on human rights, democracy, and challenging racism.

Human rights activism in Bahrain risks life and limb. Nabeel's been harassed, smeared by state media, beaten, injured, arrested, tortured and detained. He now faces another challenge.

Throughout Bahrain's 2011/2012 uprising, he helped lead the struggle for justice. In winter 2011, he condemned force used against peaceful protesters.

In March 2011, after Saudi forces invaded guns blazing, he denounced the killings, atrocities, arrests, and imprisonments that followed. On March 20, two dozen masked security forces broke into his home violently late at night.

His computer and files were confiscated. He was blindfolded, shackled, verbally abused, beaten, arrested and detained. Numerous other confrontations followed. His body shows signs of abuse. After one altercation, he face was deeply bruised and swollen.

Several times his home was tear-gassed late at night. Canister markings bore US manufacturer names. Despite continued threats, he's committed to continue struggling for justice.

In April, he told the UK-based New Statesman he "passed the stage" of worrying about his safety. "My family used to get worried at the beginning but they know the size of the goal we are fighting for. My life is in danger, but I have my obligations and my business in order so that tomorrow if they kill me, there won’t be any problems for my family."

Unemotionally, he described years of state terror directed against him. A January video showed him lying beaten on the street. Despite being called the uprising's leader, he says he's "just one of the citizens struggling. I'd say it is a movement of no leaders...."

Asked what's he's working for, he said:

"Democracy. The same thing that you have in the UK. Elected prime minister, a parliament with power, people free to do anything, laws and institutions that respect human rights and international standards. That's it. Nothing other than what you have here."

Britain, like America and other European countries, of course, have precious little. Nabeel wants the real thing. Everyone deserves it. Perhaps he has direct representation in mind - of, for, and by the people with national referenda on vital issues.

BCHR expresses "grave concern" for his safety. Perhaps his greatest challenge lies ahead. Bahrain authorities want rid of him. Local and global activists support him.

Everyone should for his longstanding dedication to human rights. Daily, he risks personal freedom and death for it.


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