UPDATE 5/29/12: Nabeel Rajab has been released on bail, three weeks after being arrested on charges of inciting protests by using social networking sites. Rajab, president of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said he paid bail of 300 dinars and is banned from traveling abroad as part of the conditions of his release.
For more than a year, the government of Bahrain has done whatever it can to crack down on human rights activists, often expanding its reach to online dissidents. In January, for example, we wrote about the arrest of Zainab Al-Khawaja, a prominent activist both online and off, as well as attacks on Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Today, the crackdown continues. On May 5, Nabeel Rajab was arrested at Bahrain’s airport upon arriving home from Beirut. According to a statement from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, the charges leveled against him are “participating in illegal assembly and calling others to join.” He may also face charges of “insulting the statutory bodies,” for which he was interrogated on April 26.
Following Rajab’s initial hearing on May 6, an article from the Bahrain News Agency implies that the latter charges relate to “cyber incitement”. In other words, Bahrain’s government believes that Rajab’s online activities “fuelled rioting, road blocking, arsons, acts of sabotage targeting public and private properties”, as well as the use of Molotov cocktails and “instigating [acts] targeting policemen whilst on duty.”
But Rajab’s highly active Twitter account tells another story: For the past year, he has been active in raising awareness of the government’s human rights abuse against protesters in the country. Meanwhile, in addition to having to contend with his own government, Rajab has also been the target of online attacks, including from Bahrain’s notorious Twitter “trolls,” which have--among other things--threatened American journalist Nicholas Kristof with violence (leading to additional, vital attention to the issue from the New York Times). The Bahrain government has benefited from assistance from none other than U.S. public relations firm, Qorvis, whose employees have written articles for the Huffington Post and other outlets defending the regime.
The Bahrain Justice and Development Movement has called on the international community to condemn the actions of the regime and call for the release of Nabeel Rajab as a prisoner of conscience. EFF heeds that call and demands Rajab’s immediate release.