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Bahrain Arrests Human Rights Champion Nabeel Rajab for 'Harming Civil Peace'

"They want to keep me as long as they can inside Bahrain, so that I can't do interviews, meet officials, or speak at the United Nations," Rajab said.
Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed

On Thursday afternoon, police in Bahrain arrested Nabeel Rajab, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists, and charged him with insulting the Kingdom.

In a statement, Bahrain's interior ministry accused Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), of "publishing information that would harm civil peace."

Shortly after his arrest, Rajab's colleagues informed VICE News that special forces police had surrounded Rajab's home in the village of Bani Jamra sometime around 2 PM. An officer in civilian clothing handed Rajab a letter detailing his alleged crimes.


The special forces are all around my house and they want me to go out

— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB)April 2, 2015

Police charged Rajab with spreading false information about torture in Bahrain's notorious Jaw Prison.

Family members filmed the final minute leading up to his arrest:

Last month, Rajab told VICE News that he expected the government to slap him with new criminal charges.

"They want to keep me as long as they can inside Bahrain, so that I can't do interviews, meet officials, or speak at the United Nations,"  he said.

Rajab suspected that he would, at some point in the near future, be accused of "inciting hatred against the government."

"We now expect Nabeel to be detained," Sayed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy told VICE News. "It's perfect timing for [the government to] avoid international criticism — as the West is busy with Easter."

RELATED: We Spoke to Bahraini Activist Nabeel Rajab, Hours Before He Was Sentenced to Six Months in Jail for a Tweet. Read More Here.

Last week, Rajab — who Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth once suggested could be the Nelson Mandela of our modern day — wrote an op-ed in which he described Jaw Prison as "the gates of hell."  He said the jail is a place where the regime's political opponents are terrorised, beaten with batons, humiliated, and shot at with guns and sound grenades. In the best of days, wrote Rajab, prisoners sleep on the floor in cockroach-infested cells.


Rajab's article was accompanied by photos of recent detainees: men with deep wine-coloured bruises and thin, spidery lashes.

.— S.Yousif Almuhafdah (@SAIDYOUSIF)March 18, 2015

I visited a young man who was just released from prison - the pictures will tell you how they were treated — Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB)March 17, 2015

Rajab's arrest coincides with the publication, by Human Rights Watch, of an article expressing "rising concern for prisoners" in Jaw Prison.

Rajab has himself been tortured and humiliated in police detention before. His colleague Hussain Jawad, head of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), is currently in prison; his lawyers say that he is being tortured and sexually assault.

Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising. Watch video here.

The arrest comes four years after the "Bahraini Uprising" began in Manama, giving rise to four years of near-continuous pro-democracy protests. In 2011, thousands of mostly Shiite Bahrainis launched a string of peaceful protests against the ruling Sunni government.

The protests were brutally suppressed by Bahrini officials who eventually imposed martial law and killed dozens of dissenters.

Since 2011, an estimated 15,000 protesters have been arrested; about 3,000 remain in custody. In December, the head of Bahrain's main opposition movement, al-Wefaq, was arrested on charges of "inciting hatred against the regime."

Opponents of the Bahraini royal family often find themselves serving protracted prison terms. Amnesty International has chronicled the abuse of children as young as 13 who are detained for participating in pro-democracy rallies: "blindfolded, beaten and tortured…threatened with rape."


Earlier, Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison for a single tweet. The tweet suggested that citizens from within Bahraini's security forces are joining up with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He has appealed the decision, and is expecting a verdict on April 15th.

many — Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB)September 28, 2014

RELATED: Six Months in Jail for a Tweet: Bahrain Update. Watch Here.

Speaking with VICE News just before his arrest, Rajab lashed out at European nations and in particular, the United Kingdom, Bahrain's close ally, for failing to publicly chastise Bahraini human rights offenders.

"The Gulf countries don't respect Europe because we haven't seen strong words coming from there," Rajab said. "The European governments [instead] do a lot of business with Bahrain."

In December, the United Kingdom announced a "landmark" deal to build a £15 million ($22.2 million) permanent naval base in Bahrain, where the US Navy hosts its Fifth Fleet. Bahrain will reportedly pay for most the base's construction, though Britain will cover its operating costs.

On January 20, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond praised Bahrain for improvements in its human rights record. Speaking to the House of Commons, Hammond called Bahrain "a country which is traveling in the right direction."

RELATED: Lawyers Question Legality of British Naval Base in Bahrain. Read Here.

Follow Katie Engelhart on Twitter: @katieengelhart