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Urgent appeal for Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain's leading human rights defender

Human rights and democracy activists are calling for urgent action over the case of Nabeel Rajab (photo), who began a hunger strike today, insisting that he will abstain from food, water and medication in protest at his unjust treatment.Nabeel RajabNabeel Rajab

Rajab is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for organizing and participating in peaceful protests in support of democratic reform.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights have issued a statement of concern over Rajab, who is president of the BCHR, director of the GCHR and deputy secretary general of the Paris-based Federation for International Human Rights:

Prison authorities today refused to release Rajab and fellow activist Mohamed Jawad Parweez to allow them to attend a condolence gathering for Rajab's mother - who is also Parweez's sister. The Public Prosecutor had earlier granted a temporary release allowing both Rajab and Parweez to attend the gathering which lasts for a few hours each day. But when their families went to the prison this morning, they were told that the temporary release had been canceled.

Earlier on 4 Oct 2012, Rajab was allowed to attend his mother's funeral along with Parweez who appeared in a wheelchair due to injuries sustained as a result of severe torture to which he was subjected following his arrest in March 2011.

The official Bahrain news agency published a statement in which the Chief Prosecutor alleged that Rajab violated the conditions of his release by giving a provocative speech after the funeral in which he called on people to continue the struggle for rights and democracy. The speech - available online here with English subtitles - is clearly a peaceful expression of opinion.

Human rights and democracy advocates expressed shock and indignation at Rajab's three-year sentence for anti-government activities.

"Even those of us who have followed Bahrain's violent crackdown on human rights are shocked by today's move," said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "It's a breathtakingly bad decision, showing that the regime's rhetoric about reform and reconciliation is a sham. The charges are patently politically-motivated, and designed to silence him. He has consistently called for protests to be peaceful, and there is no justification for his jailing."

The "unexpectedly stiff sentence will raise questions about the Western-backed Sunni monarchy's commitment to reform," AP reported.

"You can jail me for 3 years or 30 years, but I will not back down or retreat (from my human rights work)," Rajab said after his sentence was read out.

The GCHR and BCHR today urged the US administration as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU, and the leading human rights organizations to:

  1. Call for the immediate release of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab as well as all other detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience in Bahrain;
  2. Put pressure on the government of Bahrain to drop all charges against detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.