August 13, 2014
Held under the auspices of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group
Lord Avebury, Vice-chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group: Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned in Bahrain for two years between July 2012 and May 2014 for exercising his right to freedom of assembly. He participated in and called for peaceful protests in the capital Manama, in defence of people’s rights in Bahrain.
The sentence was condemned by Amnesty International, for whom Nabeel was a Prisoner of Conscience. but also Human Rights Watch and other international human rights defenders. His imprisonment was declared arbitrary by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Human Rights Watch demanded his release and the cancellation of his sentence. He has been appointed to their Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee. Index on Censorship called on Bahrain to release Nabeel, who won their Freedom of Expression award in 2012.
But what happened when Nabeel arrived at Heathrow for a short holiday with his family? He and his wife and two children were detained at the airport for nearly five hours. They were photographed and fingerprinted. Their luggage was ransacked, and their passports were confiscated.
I have asked the Minister for Immigration to apologise to Nabeel; to destroy his photographs and fingerprints, and to tell me who authorised this shameful reception of a world famous human rights defender soon after he was released from two years of solitary confinement.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, of which Nabeel is the illustrious President, is a beacon casting light on the crimes of the al-Khalifa regime. It continues to report om the three thousand political prisoners, the silencing of political and human rights activists, the killing of demonstrators by foreign mercenaries who are given citizenship and houses.
I’m glad that our Foreign Affairs Select Committee points to the ‘inexplicable’ failure of the Bahrain government to implement the recommendations of the international commission of into human rights abuses. They say there is a danger to the UK’s credibility if it becomes associate with the problems in Bahrain, but this is exactly what has happened. The way that members of the royal family are feted at Buckingham Palace, Ascot and Sandhurst, and the constant reminders by Ministers of our longstanding friendship with Bahrain prove that we are not really serious when we ask the regime for example to allow political societies the space to engage. The infamous treatment of Nabeel is yet another indication that the hereditary autocrats in Manama are the Government’s real friends, and that we are not interested in the rights of the people and their defenders.
Nabeel Rajab: Thank you Lord Avebury and thanks everyone for coming. I am happy to be here after three years. The last time I was here was for a BBC Hard Talk interview. That was my last visit. I was then banned from travelling before I was put in jail.
Lord Avebury mentioned that when I arrived in Britain I was interrogated with my children and family. Unfortunately that is not very good. I thought I was respected in many civilised countries but seeing that happened to me at the hands of the UK government disappointed me.
That really shed light on the issue that we need to talk about: the UK’s involvement and co-operation with the repressive regime in that part of the world. This has not been highlighted. We did not talk about it for many years as there was an unwritten agreement between us as an international group that we would try to influence the policy of the UK and the USA not to support the dictatorship rather than shaming them publicly.
During the past few years the position of the USA changed slightly. They tried to be in between when it comes to democratic reforms but the position of the UK has become much worse and there is a very clear support for the repressive regime in Bahrain even if they don’t mention it and don’t say it they are against our movement for democracy and human rights.
Last night before I came I saw their report. They mentioned that there is a positive improvement in the overall situation in Bahrain. I got angry about this small report. It is a big lie. It is misleading for parliament and for public opinion in the UK.
Historically the UK government is responsible for leaving Bahrain in the hands of dictators but they could have made it a democracy before leaving. So this is their responsibility and after many years they should have changed their policy but instead they are supporting the dictatorship trying to mislead public opinion and the international community that the government of Bahrain is doing better.
But they know, and everybody knows and all human reports issued in the past two years by the UN Human Rights Council and international human rights groups say that there is a deteriorating problem. There is a big human rights problem and it is escalating and becoming more dangerous. But from the other side you see the UK saying that things are getting better.
When I was arrested two and a half years ago we had 1,000 political prisoners. Today we have 3,000. Repression was a policy two years ago. Now it is in law. I was arrested because I took part in a peaceful protest without taking permission. Since the independence of Bahrain peaceful protests were not banned by law. But today they are banned by law. Repression and dictatorship is legalised in our country.
By law you cannot criticise the king. There are at least 30 people who were brought before the judiciary for insulting the king. You can be imprisoned for up to seven years for this and there are many people who have been arrested for this. One of them is a doctor, Dr Samahiji. This means that the man who has all the power in his hand to legislate and to change and all the wealth in power cannot be criticised.
By law you cannot protest in Manama today. You do not see that in the British reports. They do not say that the Bahrain government is banning peaceful protests for the first time by law, be legislation issued by the king. The number of people brought before the courts number 3,000. It was 1,000 before. The condition of the prison where I was is much better than other prisons.
I was kept in a separate building for two years to distance me from the international community and from people who I could communicate with. It was hard living in that isolation for two years but still I was not badly tortured like many other people who were tortured. At least I have seen several people who were tortured in front of my eyes in the detention centre where I was. I raised that complaint. I was not allowed to talk to anybody about that.
Thanks God when my family visited me I told them about it and they wrote to the UN who raised the issue and there was an investigation.
The situation in prison is very bad according to all human rights groups. People who need medical attention are not receiving it. The place was very crowded. There are 3,000 people in a building which was made for 1,000. Torture is being widely practised. It is not like before. People were tortured in a police station but now they are using municipality buildings, a horse stable in Budeia, in a youth house in Manama.
The judiciary is still used against human rights defenders and democrats and people struggling for democracy. This is bad news. Everyone knows that the judiciary is not independent. Human rights reports say that Bahrain has no independent judiciary and a very bad judiciary. It is being used by the ruling family against the people.
Three thousand people in jail in a nation of 700,000. This is a very high percentage. Three thousand are in jail and up to 8,000 people are wanted. There are many thousands of people who have fled the country. There are at least 50,000 people who have been in and out of jail in the past few years. This statistic should grab the attention of the international community and a civilised government like that of the UK.
I don’t know how the UK government could say that the human rights situation in Bahrain is improving. I don’t know what they based this on. I am very angry about this statement. I am a victim of this corrupt dictatorial system. We are victims of the British double standards policy and the hypocritical foreign policy of many governments headed by the UK government.
That is why I am here in the UK. There are many things I could say. I could speak for two or three hours. In fact I came prepared with a presentation on my lap top but I did not look at my computer as there are so many things to say. I know them by heart. We have a lot of misery today. My nation is paying a high price. We are not just victims of dictatorship in Bahrain. We are the victims of the hypocritical foreign policy of Western governments.
So what happened to me in the airport is nothing. I am used to it. It summarized how we are treated as democrats – as people struggling for the same values you have here in the UK. We are fighting for the things you fought for many years ago: democracy, justice, equality, human rights. But we are punished for this struggle. We are not just punished by the dictators and the ruling family. We are punished by a civilised country which talks about democracy, moral values and humanitarian principles. But when it comes to their allies who are dictators they pretend they do not see that these principles are being violated.
We have to change this. We made a decision not to talk about this for many years. I was one of the people behind that. But today I am saying that we have to shame those governments. We should inform their civil society and their nation that this is what is happening. This is costly for the people in that part of the world. That is why I am here in the UK. Of course I have come for a family visit but it is an opportunity to speak about the situation in Bahrain and highlight what is happening to our nation. I am not sure that I will not end up in jail. I have a strong feeling that the UK government will ask my government to put me back in jail.
My lawyer came to me several times. He said that he was called several times by the British embassy in Bahrain not to ask how I am doing or to say how unfair my trial was. They asked will Nabeel keep quiet when he is released. They are worried that I will continue my human rights work and that I will continue speaking. So their concern is to stop me from talking. So I leave it here and if anyone has questions I will be more than happy to answer them.
Thank you again Lord Avebury. I will always talk about what Lord Avebury has done during the past 20 years for Bahrain. Many years ago when I came to Britain no one apart from Lord Avebury would talk about what is happening in Bahrain. Today many international organisations and UN mechanisms are talking. There are heroes behind this, clean people who are raising awareness. People like Lord Avebury and I am really very grateful to Lord Avebury. What ever I have said about Lord Avebury is not enough. He has done a great job for our country, for our nation, for our struggle. He represents the bright side of UK politics. People like him and human rights groups and people like you here represent the brighter side. I hope that the politics of the UK will be brighter in the future. Thank you Lord Avebury.
Lord Avebury: Thank you Nabeel for this stark portrayal of human rights in Bahrain and your trenchant criticism of the UK government in particular. Their attempts to gloss over human rights violations and pretend that things are getting better make me very sad that the British government behaves in this way. Over the years we have had difficulty in getting the media in the UK to listen to the truth about Bahrain and to take it up in a serious way. But we have NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who are trying to raise the profile of human rights. We will continue to do this – the Interparliamentary Rights Group headed by Ann Clwyd does raise the issue of human rights in Bahrain in parliament though I must say that the response we get from ministers is grossly inadequate and we still have a lot of work to do. Any questions?
Gulf States Newsletter: I wonder if you could talk a little from your perspective about how things stand within the royal family. We often have a narrative here of the crown prince being slightly more moderate and more open to discussions and I wonder how you see it from your perspective and if there was going to be a move towards compromise where it might come from within the royal family and that sort of dynamic.
Nabeel Rajab: We have always been hearing about the two sides of the royal family but in practice we have not felt that and we have not seen that. We do not see any impact of the crown prince on the crown. But we keep hearing that from some diplomats and they do this because they want to justify their silence. They say there is another part of the ruling family trying hard. I have been hearing this for the past 12 years but I have never seen it on the ground. But as a human rights group we are with dialogue. We are pushing for a dialogue and we hope to see a dialogue. We have a lot of anger but we have to find a solution on the ground. As of this moment I do not see any indication that there will be a solution. On the ground things show that everything is going the wrong way. Every day the king is introducing new repressive laws. There is now a unified policy in the Gulf attacking the human rights movement, attacking democrats. Now there is a unified policy to withdraw passports and nationality from people in the Emirates and in Kuwait and Bahrain. Whoever fights for democracy can be without a passport tomorrow. There is a unified policy targeting human rights defenders. What happened to me in the airport also happens when I travel to the Gulf countries. So this is an indication that they are going the wrong way. Before a parliamentarian could ask a minister. Now it is very difficult. In 2011 we started the revolution for reforms and changes but today in 2014 the situation is worse than in 2011. So all this is an indication that things are not going in the right direction. That is why I am upset when the British say that overall the situation is improving. This is not true. Overall it looks very dangerous and frightening. A few years ago they would not have the courage to withdraw a passport. At the same time my country is bringing in tens of thousands of people from outside and giving them Bahraini nationality and they are withdrawing the nationality from the indigenous population. If there was someone who is a reformer in the royal family we would welcome him. If the crown prince talked about reforms we would be happy. I think everyone would agree with me even the opposition. I am not from the opposition but I will be one of the people who would push the opposition towards dialogue. But there is nothing like this at the moment.
Question: I want to ask what is the basis of the relationship between the two kingdoms. You mentioned that Bahrain has the silence of the UK.
Nabeel Rajab: It is money, interests, arms sales. We cannot offer that as a human rights movement. We cannot guarantee those businesses but we can guarantee in the long run that stability and peace is good for everybody and for the future of the whole world. Dictatorship is frightening. You wake up every day and they have a new problem. Stability, democracy, equality, justice is a safeguard for everybody. So we want our society to be stable. But looking just at business they want business and the Bahraini king was sent to speak on behalf of all the GCC countries to buy typhoons. Why the Bahraini king? Bahrain has the worse record in human rights. So this is our message to the UK. Your business comes through this regime so you please them. They know the weak point of the British government is interest and arms sales so they use that. I have to remind you that there is a unified policy towards the European countries also. Two months ago there was supposed to be an annual meeting between the GCC countries and the EU to talk about the free trade agreement. Because of the statement issued by the United Nations which was signed by 47 countries most of them are European the GCC asked the European s either to withdraw their signatures or they would boycott. And the boycotted. And the GCC comes to that meeting. So they are using their influence, their business and their arms sales to pressure the Europeans and some countries will listen to that and the UK is one of them. They want to have business and their arms sales. The security institution has a role in relations between Bahrain and the UK government. As I said in the US it is the Pentagon. It is not the foreign office. It looks like it is the foreign office but in reality it is the Pentagon that decides on the type of relationship with Bahrain. Here I think it is the security institution and business. We can guarantee that in the long term we can do business with the UK but the ruling family has everything in its hand. But we have to change that. It is up to you, it is up to the civilised nations and the fighters for democracy like Lord Avebury. We have to change that. I am sure the public is not aware of that. I am sure they do not want money to come in that bloody way. So that is our part to highlight what is happening.
Lord Avebury: In the foreign affairs select committee Sir John Stanley did ask the former minister Alistair Burt about the inconsistency of UK policy of selling weapons to Bahrain and the use of those weapons to attack civilians on the streets and he got a very equivocal answer. Mr Burt actually did not reply to the question in terms of whether or not there was a danger that UK weapons sold to Bahrain could be used against the civilian population. That is a point that needs to be taken up.
Question: Just short comments. Nabeel mentioned that we as human rights activists and many of the Bahraini NGOs have confidence that the international community largely shares the blame especially the allies of the Bahraini regime – the UK and the USA. During the time when the regime raised the slogan of dialogue and the majority of the opposition inside Bahrain accepted this dialogue they wanted this dialogue. But it never happened because there was no serious work to make any type of dialogue. There was a large amount of pressure on the opposition inside Bahrain to start this dialogue and there were positive steps from the opposition inside Bahrain. There were serious negative steps from the regime and the dialogue did not start. Now the regime has closed all the doors and even the windows to start a dialogue. Now they started another slogan by pushing the opposition inside Bahrain to take part in so-called parliamentary elections. This is really nonsense for the opposition and there is really no serious conceding of power and the parliament is a tool in the hands of the regime to oppress the opposition and freedom fighters and so on. Now the allies have shifted their position. Instead of pressurising for a start to a dialogue with the opposition they are now pushing the opposition to take part in these elections. This is total nonsense. We feel that whatever is happening to the people of Bahrain due to the repression of the regime is the responsibility of the international community. Just to indicate two cases when we felt something serious has to be done about the detainees. Sheikh Merzan Mahrous is one of the 13 leaders in prison. For more than ten days he has been confined to bed but did not receive sufficient medical treatment. We are very concerned as he has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Another example is Mish Al Deibi. He has been beaten badly by his officer Khalifa Naran because he wants some cleaning. He was sent to the isolated cell. Two days ago his family saw him and he was bleeding from the nose and he was beaten in his cell. This clearly shows that human rights violations are so serious in Bahrain but unfortunately no serious action is being taken by Bahrain’s allies or the international community.
Saeed Shehabi: Many human rights organisations are calling for the release of the Bahrain 13. The UK is probably the only country which says that they are guilty. Mr Burt said last year to Abdul Khawaja’s wife when they met at the Foreign Office that your husband and the other 12 have not been detained because they exercised their freedom of expression but because of other criminal matters. When she pressed him about what these criminal matters were he said he did not have the details but promised to come back to her. Her never came back. So the UK is still insisting that the arrest of these 13 is not due to freedom of expression but for other criminal actions. Are you aware of the criminality of these 13? So that is one question.
Nabeel Rajab: According to Human Rights Watch they said the want they called for a democratic republic and that was their crime.
Saeed Shehabi: This is very significant because the world is calling for the release of the 13. The UK is saying that they are criminals. What do you think as human rights activists and what are you doing to do about it? This is number one. Number two is that the Foreign Relations Committee last year here in this country presented some recommendations among which was one to place Bahrain as a country of concern. Instead it seems to me that the UK government has taken other steps to normalise the position of Bahrain rather than to criminalise it and to say it is a country of concern. Why is there a difference between what the parliamentarians have found and what the government is doing in the UK? Why is there such a difference in opinion and stance? And thirdly and lastly tomorrow is Bahrain’s Independence Day – 14th August. It is the day when the British troops withdrew in 1971 after 150 years of presence in the Gulf and in Bahrain in particular. Is Bahrain a free country today or is it under occupation? How do human rights defenders view the presence of the Saudi army in Bahrain?
Lord Avebury: I would like to add to the question about the 13 because I have written several times to ministers asking them to join with the international chorus for the release of the 13. I have also said to them that if you are calling for a dialogue you can’t imagine that there can be any meaningful dialogue when these people who are the leaders of the political opposition in the country are behind bars and are unable to take part in it. I asked Alistair Burt when he was still minister about the convictions of the 13 in the so-called civilian courts and I have said was it not true that the courts relied on the confessions that were made under torture. They were used as the main evidence for conviction in the military courts. They did not cancel the sentence that had been made under torture. They were used again in the criminal court when they were charged. I have never had a straight answer to that. Do you think this is something that the human rights community should act on? The convictions may have been on criminal charges but they were based on this evidence that had been obtained in the military courts.
Nabeel Rajab: Away from whether they were tortured or not according to a human rights report which was issued and said that the court’s verdict and reasoning was translated they came to know that they were convicted for only one reason: they called for a republic and that is a crime – they were sentenced for 25 years. That was the position of the UK government. Only the UK, not the USA. Amnesty International everybody spoke about this. This again takes me back to the first point. Why does the UK have to go all the way to defend the government of Bahrain, to criminalise innocent, respected figures in our country who fight for liberty. It just reminds me of how they treated Nelson Mandela and how he was considered a terrorist. They are repeating the same thing in my country. Those people are respected in my country and everyone knows that they are in jail because of freedom of expression. Again this is to justify the UK’s position. They have to say that. We have to change that. I put that on you who are living in the UK and on the NGO’s. It is time to speak out and to raise those issues. Independence Day reminds us how we were left on this day many years ago by the British government who left all the authority in the hands of the dictators instead of bringing people from all parties to form a democratic state. They did not do that, they gave it to a repressive regime, a repressive ruling family and they are repeating the same mistake by supporting this dictatorial family as I am speaking to you. Saying that Bahrain should be a country of concern is the least thing that they can do. Then you see opposing that is the report that was issued by the government. I do not believe that the dialogue will be successful if those people are not released. Any dialogue is not worth talking about when we have political prisoners. It is just a waste of time. Any dialogue without involving all the opposition figures is a waste of time and it will not gain support. I in a personal capacity will only support a dialogue that involves everybody. I do not want to see the problem shift tomorrow to a problem between the people who take part in the dialogue and those who do not. This is the government trying to play now. It is trying to take one or two parties from the opposition and have a dialogue with them. It did not succeed so far. Any credible dialogue has to involve all the opposition figures or it will not be accepted by the people o Bahrain.
Saeed Shehabi: What about the Saudi interference there?
Nabeel Rajab: I have not through my activism over the past 20 years considered the Al Khalifa’s as occupiers. But what are they doing to the indigenous population – withdrawing nationality. This is exactly what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. There are settlements for the new settlers, bringing people from outside and giving them nationality. Kicking out the indigenous population and dispersing them around the world. Instead of depending on the Americans they depend on the Saudis and their financial assistance. They are using religion to fight us. They are resorting to sectarianism. That is why you can’t avoid calling them occupiers. We do not want to say that. We want to compromise and live with them. We want to have a better relationship with them. But they are doing to us exactly what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians. And now they are bringing the Saudis to take part in the crackdown. We were oppressed and we were not armed. We are against the arming of any revolution and we are against violence and we don’t think violence is a way to get demands. But they brought the Saudis to occupy my country. The Saudis are not accepted in my country, they are not welcome and they should leave. They are occupiers, of course they are.
Question: What direction do you see the uprising taking? Will it be peaceful? Will dissent be crushed.
Nabeel Rajab: The frightening part is that a little part of it is going a little bit extreme. That is due to frustration and hopelessness, ignorance and abandonment by the international community and the double standards of foreign policy. This has made a small group of people go a little bit extreme and we try to control that and contain it. Will we be able to do this? There is more repression day by day and the people see no solution so more and more people go towards extremism in a region which is a very frightening area. The sectarian conflict between the Shias and the Sunnis is being created by the Gulf regimes so it is very troubling. It will be wise for the government to solve the problem as soon as possible because we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow. We will remain peaceful. We will have to fight to be peaceful. People may blame me and tell me you are the cause because you keep struggling by peaceful means and all that and see where we are today. There are people in jail and many people have been killed. But we have to remain peaceful especially when we see what has happened in Syria – arming the people who are fighting for democracy and how much it has cost everybody. We do not want to get into that. We will fight. We will never give up. We are not tired, we have a lot of stamina and we know that there are nations who have been struggling for hundreds of years. We will fight and we will achieve democracy.
Question: I want to ask about Julian Assange. Are you going to meet Julian Assange?
Nabeel Rajab: Well I was told that maybe one reason they took your passport is that they think you are going to meet Julian Assange. And I was not planning to meet him. It is illegal and even if I disagree with this I have to respect the law. He stood with me and I respect the man. I talked to him several times.
Lord Avebury: Did you get your passport back.
Nabeel Rajab: Yes, I forgot to say that I got my passport back. It was given back to me after two weeks. I went to the airport and collected it. I did not plan to meet Assange. I do not want to end up in a problem with the UK government and the US government but the guy is a friend and I respect him.
Question: Don’t you think it is a strategy to support a regime like Bahrain with political hypocrisy. It is just showing that there is no change to their policy. Last time I went to the Foreign Office here I told them exactly what is happening in Bahrain. You are not doing anything to change your policy since 250 years ago. Still you are with the dictator. You are just showing that you were with democracy and promoting democracy but you are against democracy on the ground. So it is like being with the dictators against the people. It is a strategy of Britain to be in the same line. It has been 250 years and it will continue. Do you think is a correct analysis if you look at history?
Nabeel Rajab: I am a human rights activist. I stand for human rights. I do not go much into politics. I am not a politician. Some people say I am crazy not to be a politician but I am very straight forward. So I don’t take that history. I just ask people to stick to their standards. I embarrass people when I ask them to do that. Yes the history of the UK government in Bahrain has always been like that but again I say it is up to us and up to you and the people in the UK to change that as they changed their position towards many other countries. It is up to us and up to you. It has a history. I saw a film which I twitted a few days ago. It was made by the BBC in 1956. If you see the language and the demands of the people of Bahrain it is the same. And the response from the British adviser is the same. The same as their response to the wife of Abdul Hadi. They see us as bad guys, criminals. They know that we are not. They are confident we are not bad people but they do that for their interests. They have to justify their hypocrisy to their own nation. So we have to show the outside world and their own public what they are doing. We used to be quiet and the British embassy needed to know that. We kept watching and monitoring them. I did not ask for a meeting in the Foreign Office. Whoever goes to the Foreign Office comes out depressed. They say we sat we with the security institution not the Foreign Office so for the past ten years I did not ask to meet them. So I don’t want to have that feeling. But we have to embarrass them and brings things to light. That is up to us as a human rights group. And that is what we will do in the coming months and years.
Lord Avebury: Just one thing that occurs to me. Do you think that the pressure should be exerted on the British government regarding the indefinite postponement of the UN Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendes?
Nabeel Rajab: I have to tell you one thing. I am focusing on the UK government because I am in the UK. So I have to speak about the UK government. When I am in the USA I have to speak about the American government’s position. Still I am saying that British policy towards Bahrain is worse than the American. It used to be the Americans who were worse. Yes the visit of five UN rapporteurs is pending. It is not only Juan Mendes. Bahrain promised that they would come. They postponed the visit of Juan Mendes and they are doing the same think with the other rapporteurs. None of them have been allowed to come to Bahrain. The last one was in 2001. They released the political prisoners. Nigel Rodney came to Bahrain if I am not mistaken. The British government could exert pressure. It could play a positive role. We do not want them to go against the government but if they used their influence they could do better business. They have to make them work for a stable and peaceful future. They have to advise their ally in Bahrain and pressure him. At least allow international human rights groups to come in. Now no journalists are allowed to come in. No reporter on human rights can come to Bahrain. Even the technical co-operation we are supposed to have with the UN Human Rights Commission has been postponed or it is not working because Bahrain has put a very limited mandate that you can only do training on one or two specific issues and you cannot monitor, you cannot visit prisons, you cannot meet human rights defenders, you cannot speak about the human rights situation. They put a lot of conditions and made it very difficult for the high commissioner to have an office in Bahrain. So yes, through you, I am urging the government of the UK to pressure on Bahrain to ask them to allow Juan Mendes and the other four. And also allow human rights groups to come to Bahrain and take their recommendations into account.
Lord Avebury: I did ask Nigel Rodney to join us today but he said that having been a member of the Bassouini commission and having reported as they did on what was happening in Bahrain and having made recommendations it was for us to press for those recommendations to be implemented. But he did send you his good wishes.
Saeed Shehabi: He said good words about Nabeel didn’t he?
Lord Avebury. Yes.
Nabeel Rajab: He is a respected man since he was working with the UN for a long time. He is a respected man he did a good job. Unfortunately those recommendations have not been implemented. They are trying to show to the international community that they implemented the recommendations but in reality they were not implemented. Nothing has happened on the ground and things seem to be going from bad to worse.
Saeed Shehabi: How do you forsee the next six months? What will we see in Bahrain?
Nabeel Rajab: I just hope that I don’t go back to jail. I want to continue my work. Two years away from my children and my people was tough and I do not want to repeat that. That will not be a reason for me to stop my work. We have a history with the Bahrain government. They will ahead with the elections even with zero turn out and they will still present it as a credible election. They have a very stubborn tribal mentality. The conflict is getting wider and wider and the solution is getting more complicated. We as a human rights group should continue doing our work with the human rights mechanisms in the UN. We have to continue the struggle at the street level, we have to continue fighting peacefully and maintain our peaceful struggle. We have to remember that many nations have spent hundreds of years struggling for democracy. It is not something free of charge. It is something for which they have paid a high price. We have to be willing to pay so our new generation has a better future and a better democratic state that respects human rights. Everything can’t stay in the hand of the government. We have to continue.
Saeed Shehabi: With regard to the revocation of nationality how serious is it as a weapon against the opposition, in the context of demographic change and engineering. I want to ask Lord Avebury how does the UK government view the use of nationality as a weapon against the natives.
Nabeel Rajab: First of all nationality is our right. It is not a given thing from the ruling family. Most of those people whose nationality was revoked were Bahrainis for hundreds and thousands of years. The Al Khalifa was a family who came some years ago. How that will be dealt with by the international community, this is what we have to see. It is something new. Yes, it will have an impact because people will be afraid that their nationality will be withdrawn. It will have an impact on two fronts. Some people will stop talking. Some will continue working in silence. Once you work in silence the ability of going extreme is very high. They have done the same thing in targeting people in the internet. Before I went to jail there was a lot of activity on twitter and face book. Now you have hundreds of people in jail because they said something on their twitter account. That has played two roles. It made the majority of people use a fake name on twitter. It stopped some people from being active and pushed a few people to becoming extreme. You will see the same thing with the passports.
Saeed Shehabi: What happened to those people whose nationality has been revoked in Bahrain. There are Bahrainis inside Bahrain who have no nationality.
Nabeel Rajab: They are called to court and told they are living illegally. They told the natives that they are living illegally. Now their children cannot go to school or be treated in hospital as they would have passports or a card and they will not have any identity and the government and the court will be heading to punish them for living illegally in Bahrain. It is a sad but funny thing.
Saeed Shehabi: So natives are considered illegal immigrants.
Nabeel Rajab: This is a phenomenon we have. They give the UK as an example. They say the UK did that before. I think the UK did that for naturalised not indigenous people.
Lord Avebury: The UK has a law which provides that people can be deprived of their citizenship – not natives, only naturalised citizens. They can do that. That law has now been intensified. The criteria for depriving someone of their citizenship is more extensive under present law then it used to be and the number of people who have been deprived of their citizenship here has increased I am sorry to tell you. But these are people who have acted in a manner contrary to the interests of the UK. They have been labelled with evidence of engaging in activities to do with terrorism and they have a right of appeal. On the surface the Bahrain government is correct when they say look at the UK, they have a law which allows people to be deprived of their citizenship. That law does allow the individual to make representations against his deprivation. If they had such a right in Bahrain it might not be any good because as you were saying the judiciary is tainted and it is easy enough for them to allow someone to appear formally before a court without any intention of allowing a fair hearing.
Nabeel Rajab: And the people who were targeted were not associated with Al Qaeda. They were the people fighting for democracy. This is a major difference.
Comment: I have been threatened in the United Kingdom that they would revoke my nationality. It is up to the investigation department belonging to the security of the state. If they see you has a person who does not conform to their interests then they threaten you. That is what they did to me. Three months ago the police officer who was interviewing me threatened me that my British nationality would be revoked. He wanted to accuse me of engaging in terrorist activities and using the land of the United Kingdom as a base against Bahrain. They did not present any evidence for this. I am a British citizen and they are threatening me that they will revoke my nationality even though Bahrain has revoked my nationality. They know that I do not have another nationality yet they are still threatening to revoke my British nationality. The decision makers in the UK government should be made aware of this. Is this a good example of how they practise democracy.
Lord Avebury: We particularly want to guard against the use of our law as a means of implementing the repressive policies of other governments. So if there is evidence that the Bahraini government is bringing pressure to bear on the UK government to deprive people of their UK citizenship by legal means than we will certainly pay attention to that and take it up.
Karen Dabrowska: I think that law goes back a long time. They can revoke your nationality for espionage, terrorism or piracy when they still had pirates.
Lord Avebury: The law goes back a long time but it has been strengthened recently.
Karen Dabrowska: I would just like to tell Nabeel that I am a freelance journalist and I was writing for Middle East magazine. And recently they had a big party – they were celebrating 40 years of independent journalism. And I said to them you never write anything about Bahrain and the editor said we do not write anything about Bahrain because we don’t really know what is going on there which is quite an incredible thing to say.
Nabeel Rajab: The government of Bahrain does not allow independent journalists to enter the country. The other thing is you are in a region where the media belongs to the ruling family and is influenced by the ruling family or their international allies. The BBC will come and talk about Bahrain but none of the people in the administration will talk about Bahrain. They interview me as a person, as a figure, a human rights figure but not to talk about the issue of Bahrain. They are not interested to talk about the government. The same thing happens with the BBC and CNN. We are not only a victim of not just the international community but also of the media which has ignored our struggle in Bahrain. The Arab spring was mainly covered by al Jazeera, Al Arabia and the Iranian channel. So they covered all the revolutions but when it came to Bahrain they kept quiet – only the Iranian channel talked about Bahrain and it looked as if we are an ally of Iran. Then they stopped because they belong to the Saudis and the Qataris. They share the same political system as Bahrain and they are now investing in buying the media. That is very worrying. We have seen a shrinking of the independent media and there is a bad influence of money on the media. Even here. People want to know about Bahrain because they can’t see what is going on from the media. You go to any piece written about Bahrain by any newspaper and you will see how much it was tweeted or how much it was shared in facebook – more than any other article. The people are hungry to know about what is happening in this tiny country. The Independent writes a lot about Bahrain compared with the other papers. And maybe the Guardian. But apart from that you will see that almost nothing is written about Bahrain because our problem, our revolution problem… We are from a rich country people tell us. But the money is in the hands of a family and we are a poor nation. I am from a country which is governed by the richest family in the region with the poorest people. In that regard they see us as rich. But where has the wealth gone. It has been used very negatively to silence people, the international community and the media. And until now they have succeeded. There is activism from the other side. People are fighting for democracy and human rights. There is competition. We are a strong movement in Bahrain, one of the strongest movements in the Arab region which believes in democracy and fights for democracy. If that movement is not strong and does not exist you will never hear anything about Bahrain. Thank God I can come here and speak. They silenced me and kept me in jail for two years. And by silencing me they silenced another couple of hundred activists. This is what we have to be telling the media. Human rights and democracy is a value that your nation fought for. We don’t want to bring a state that you hate. We want to bring a state like yours, we admire the democracy, we admire the judicial system. We admire the civil society. We want to be similar and we have a hope – a legitimate hope for my nation and my kids. We have a legitimate hope to live in a system that respects justice and where equality is applied. We are fighting for the same thing your grand father and your great grandfather fought for. So you guys have a responsibility to help us.
Lord Avebury: On that note I think we will bring our proceedings to a close. A warm note of thanks to Nabeel.