This story is over 5 years old.


Bahrain's King Heads to UK Horse Show, While Human Rights Activist Heads Back to Prison For a Tweet

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is skipping the GCC summit in the US to sit beside Queen Elizabeth this weekend, as Nabeel Rajab is going back behind bars as a Bahraini court upheld his conviction.
Photo by Hasan Jamali/AP

Two prominent Bahraini men are spending their Thursdays in very different ways.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has skipped the US-Gulf Summit, opting instead to attend the UK's Windsor Horse Show with the British queen. Meanwhile — back at home — human rights activist Nabeel Rajab just got word that he is being moved from solitary confinement to the prison he claims he was tortured in, after a court upheld his conviction for sending a single tweet deemed as insulting to the country.


Rajab is expecting to be transferred back to the notorious Jaw Central Prison, where he served time two years previously.

A spokesperson for the activist took to Twitter to let his followers know that Rajab would definitely have to serve the six-month sentence he was initially handed in January. The exact text of the offending tweet — posted in September 2014 — read: "Many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS came from security institutions and those were the first ideological incubator."

Related: Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising

This is not the only court case currently facing Rajab, and his treatment is seen by the kingdom's critics as the most high-profile human rights abuse in a country facing a tense security situation and an increasingly sadistic state.

Sayed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), told VICE News that he had spoken to Rajab earlier this week when the activist was in a "high spirit, ready to pay the cost for greater freedom."

Alwadaei, 28, is a London-based Bahraini who had his citizenship revoked in February after his home country labeled him a "terrorist." He told VICE News that he interprets the king's current visit to the UK as symbolic of "how things are moving on" in the Gulf state.

Bahrain's monarch has skipped the GCC summit, held in Washington D.C. and Camp David at the behest of US President Barack Obama.


"It just reflects how [the king is] messing up his priorities. When Obama invited him to Camp David… he escaped from [the issues that are challenging Bahrain] and he came to the UK in order to enjoy the horse show."

Furthermore, by "rewarding [the king] and giving him red-carpet treatment," Alwadai charged," the UK is "sending the wrong message to the people of Bahrain who are fighting for justice, for all these democratic values which the UK often promote."

The UK is also in the process of building a military base in Bahrain, though the Gulf state is providing most of the initial funding.

Related: Former Inmates at Bahrain's Jaw Prison Describe Being Tortured and Teargassed

Alwadaei told VICE News that they certainly felt the US had been doing more than Britain to highlight the abuses happening in the country, and had at least been outspoken about condemning Rajab's treatment.

BIRD is planning on holding a protest outside the Windsor Horse Show on Sunday, though Alwadaei is not certain they will actually see the king.

On the evening before his arrest in January, Rajab spoke to VICE News from his home in Bahrain. "I'm a target because of my human rights work," he said. "I'm a target because of the work I have been doing internationally and at the regional level. I am a target because of the work I do with different human rights organizations."

About the country's leadership, he stated: "I don't know how they think. I don't know how will they think. I never think of what they are going to do. What I think is that my work is to continue. My work is to continue the struggle for human rights and justice in this part of the world."


In the Gulf state now, he said, "there are people rising, people revolting."

"And from the beginning of my work, I knew that it was going to be costly. Because you are working in an area where people lived as slaves, treated as slaves, for many years. And now we rose up, asking for our rights in repressive countries which the rulers have not accepted that we are fighting for equality and justice. And they want to continue ruling us the same way they've done in the last years."

Related: We Spoke to Bahraini Activist Nabeel Rajab, Hours Before He Was Sentenced to Six Months in Jail for a Tweet

Reflecting on his experiences in prison, the father of two children said that while it's difficult to watch his children growing up from behind bars, he's someone who "becomes stronger because of jail."

"They really punished me and tortured me psychologically by putting me in jail. But at the same time they made me more popular among people. Every time I go to jail, I came out, I realise I am more popular among people and more influential."

Referring to protests in the Gulf state where British flags had been publicly burned, Rajab said that anger in the Gulf state is erupting, and much of the increasingly ferocious sentiment is being directed at Britain. "I disagree with burning flags, but that shows the rising anger towards British policy on Bahrain and the whole region, the Gulf region, by being silent, by being supportive of repressive regimes."


On Wednesday, another imprisoned activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, published an open letter addressed to the United Nations. Four years into a prison sentence, the former pro-democracy protester has been on hunger strike since April 20. In the letter Khawaja claimed he had been hearing the regular screams of torture victims emitting from "Building 10" in Jaw Prison.

"The type of torture I have heard in the last few months is the worst since 2011, and the violations that have occurred over the past period are indescribable," he said. "The prison administration has systematically attempted to prevent this information from getting out by harassing us during phone calls and family visits."

One of the king's sons, Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, is also back in London and expected to attend the horse show with his father. Al-Khalifa stands accused of involvement in the torturing of detained prisoners during Bahrain's 2011 uprising. In October the prince lost any claim to diplomatic immunity in the UK. However, Scotland Yard said that they lacked sufficient evidence to pursue a case against him.

Al-Khalifa's location was discovered this week after he posted a video on Instagram with London's Hyde Park in the background. Other images posted by the prince include pictures of him competing in triathlons, multiple photos of him posing with horses, and selfies with his children.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd