Leading Bahraini human rights and pro-democracy activist Nabeel Rajab is once again on the receiving end of the repression which is one of the enduring specialisms of the gulf dictatorship. The latest of Nabeel’s arrests took place at the beginning of October, shortly after his return from an international advocacy tour. He is due to hear the verdict in his trial on Saturday 2 November on a charge of “insulting a public institution”, potentially leading to a jail sentence of up to six years.
Human Rights Watch outlines the legal context of Nabeel’s arrest on 1st October as follows:
The officers (of the cybercrimes unit of the Criminal Investigation Directorate) arrested him for violating article 216 of the penal code and referred his case to the public prosecutor. Article 216 states that ‘A person shall be liable for imprisonment or payment of a fine if he offends by any method of expression the National Assembly, or other constitutional institutions, the army, law courts, authorities or government agencies,’ and is punishable by up to three years in prison.”
As regards the substance of the alleged offensive behaviour, Nabeel’s lawyer, Jalila al-Sayed, is quoted by Vice News website as saying: “Nabeel was merely exercising his right to free expression when he tweeted about the tendency of some security and military officials to join terrorist groups like ISIS, which is a fact admitted even by government officials.”
Superficially, Nabeel’s long term struggle against the Khalifa family firm dictatorship and his identification of alleged state sponsors of the ISIS horror show might be expected to win him plaudits from the western countries presently intervening against the proclaimed caliphate. But this is Bahrain, notorious geo-political and business ally of key imperial states including Britain and the USA. The regime, accordingly, is on the protected assets list, so repeatedly its attacks on trade unionists and rights activists provoke no more than reluctant and inconsequential expressions of ephemeral regret.
The spuriousness of Anglo-American state concern is widely recognised. In its reporting of Nabeel’s case, Index on Censorship for example observes
Index is deeply concerned that the UK government has done little to press Bahrain to improve its human rights record. Instead the UK talks repeatedly of improvements in the human rights system in Bahrain when it is clear that rights such as freedom of expression are not being respected.”
The persistence, even predictability of repression, as noted by Index, is striking. Nabeel’s treatment parallels that of Maryam Al-Khawaja and other rights activists who have fallen foul of the regime. His victimisation is part of a repressive pattern. As Amnesty International spokesperson Said Boumedouha writes:
The detention of Nabeel Rajab is yet another serious blow to freedom of expression in Bahrain and entrenches growing attempts by the authorities to muzzle dissenters. He must be released immediately and these outrageous charges against him must be dropped. Such repressive laws create an environment where freedom of expression is permanently stifled. These laws should be abolished.”
It is imperative that trade unions internationally support and extend these demands. Labour movement organisations have a profound interest in human rights issues within the various gulf tyrannies, which invariably are also hostile to independent worker association. The smashing of the Bahraini Teachers Association and hounding of its leadership by the Bahraini state in the aftermath of the emergence of a mass movement for reform in Spring 2011 is a case in point.
The priority must be to counter inter-state repressive machinations with promotion of international class solidarity. Toward that end there is much that trade unionists can do. Initial steps that might be considered include:
- Raise opposition to the arrest of Nabeel Rajab in your union branch. Using chair’s action if necessary, demand that the charges be dropped before verdict is delivered on 29th October. More broadly, call for a union-led international investigation of Bahraini state repression and abuse of rights, including those of trade unionists. To be meaningful this must include identification of regime supports and facilitators internationally.
- Support independent unions and democratisation movements in Bahrain. Model motion available here.
- Members of UCU and other education unions, oppose state repression of the Bahrain Teachers Association. To read UCU material relating to BTA support, enter “Bahrain” in the search engine at UCU national website.