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Welcome home Nabeel Rajab!

After a grueling two-year prison sentence, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) president and well-known human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was finally released on 24 May 2014. IFEX and other human rights organisations united in a 10-day countdown to his release using the #FreeNabeel hashtag and asking the Bahraini authorities to honour the promised release date.

Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab with his family after his release on 24 May 2014
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab with his family after his release on 24 May 2014

Zainab Alkhawaja

Nabeel Rajab has finally been released from serving two years in Bahrain's notorious Jaw prison under unfounded terrorism charges. Help IFEX welcome him home! Share this positive update on social media using the hashtag #FreeNabeel.

Scroll down this page to see the 10 moments featured in the countdown campaign showcasing Nabeel as a father, friend, and peaceful activist.


1 day: Urge Bahraini authorities to respect free expression rights

Tomorrow, 24 May 2014, is the highly anticipated and overdue release of Nabeel Rajab from the two-year prison sentence he received for peacefully exercising his right to free expression. It has been a period marked by outrage and concern; in addition to being an internationally recognised human rights defender and activist, Nabeel is also a husband, father, friend and colleague.

With just one day until Nabeel returns home, we are seizing the opportunity to appeal directly to Bahraini authorities to demand respect for the free expression rights of all Bahrainis. Ongoing human rights abuses under the al-Khalifa regime have been the focus of negative international attention; just last week, Bahraini Prince al-Khalifa's diplomatic status in the UK was under scrutiny.

Adding its voice to pressure coming from inside and outside of Bahrain to better protect the human rights of its people, IFEX sent a statement on 21 May 2014 to Bahraini officials, stressing the importance of Nabeel's release and need for the government to release other unlawfully detained activists, bloggers and journalists in recognition of their free expression rights.

While we are both excited and relieved that Nabeel will finally be free, we firmly believe his detention was unjust. The international community must keep a careful watch on human rights violations in Bahrain and continue to demand an end to the persecution of peaceful free expression advocates.



2 days: Nabeel’s relationship with Abdulhadi Alkhawaja

Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab closely collaborated together to advocate for human rights in Bahrain, prior to Alkhawaja's sentence to life imprisonment in 2011. Both are responsible for founding the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) with other colleagues in 2002. IFEX reached Maryam Alkhawaja, the acting president of BCHR and the daughter of Abdulhadi, and asked her about the relationship between the two men and how they serve as an inspiration in the country and beyond.

  • What did Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and Nabeel Rajab accomplish together as human rights defenders in Bahrain?



  • How are they and the work of BCHR perceived by the general Bahraini public?



  • What does Nabeel’s release mean for the fight for free expression and the right to peacefully protest in Bahrain?



  • How is Nabeel an inspiration in Bahrain?




3 days: A family counts the hours

With only a few days left to the countdown, Sumaya Rajab, Nabeel's wife, wrote an emotional letter to IFEX in which she shares her reflections about her husband's incarceration and what having him coming back home means to her and their two children. The following letter was originally written in Arabic and translated to English.

The countdown to the release of my dear husband Nabeel Rajab from the prison cell this unjust regime locked him in has begun. His only offense is that he exercised his right, as a human being, to express his opinion, and his right, as a human rights defender, to defend and protect his people and his nation from hatred, tyranny, torture and the violation of rights and dignities.

In a few days, Nabeel will walk away from the cells of injustice into the arms of the people of Bahrain first, and the embrace of his family, friends, and loved ones second. A few short days remain until we will see a man who is inspirational both in his words and in his actions.

For us, as a family, Nabeel is the source of our joy and happiness, we will not be complete until he is with us again, after a long and painful separation that lasted two years. During his time in prison, the regime wanted to silence Nabeel's voice and erase his vision of justice.

Nabeel will be back again with his family and his loved ones to continue calling for the release of Bahrainis from the clutches of tyranny, and our home will once again be filled with his free and giving spirit.

Nabeel Rajab with his family in Bahrain prior to his detention in 2012
Nabeel Rajab with his family in Bahrain prior to his detention in 2012

BCHR/GCHR

Of course, as his wife, and the mother of our son Adam and our daughter Malak, I miss his presence deeply. My life was full when Adam's father was around, then the regime decided to punish us by snatching away from our family that which was its strongest member. During Nabeel's imprisonment, our family went through many experiences, some of which were happy moments and others that were sad, some simple and others difficult. We missed him the most in those difficult times, because he was always wise and calm in the face of hardship.

Every occasion Adam, Malak, and I experienced while he was away from us was filled with pain, sadness and heartbreak, even when it was a happy occasion. We miss his presence and his sharing in our happy moments and our sad ones. Even our extended family – his siblings and their children – share in our sadness.

Thankfully, as a result of our unity as a family, the support of our friends, the solidarity we were shown by the people of Bahrain and the international support we received from human rights organisations, we have been able to get through this painful experience with patience, determination, and resilience.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude and the gratitude of Nabeel's family and friends to the people of Bahrain, who stood by us, defended us, and offered us love and compassion, for in our darkest moments, the people were our greatest solace.

On behalf of Nabeel's entire family, I would like to thank the human rights individuals and organisations that worked tirelessly to release Nabeel from his unjust imprisonment. Not for one moment were we left to fight for his freedom on our own. At every stage of this struggle, our family had the support of human rights organisations to keep us going.

Thank you also to IFEX and all its distinguished members for not forgetting about the Bahraini struggle and about Nabeel's struggle in jail – their efforts will not be forgotten by the people of Bahrain.


4 days: Local and international reactions on 16 August 2012

In August 2012, Nabeel was serving three months in jail for a tweet criticising the Prime Minister – considered an insult to Bahrainis by officials. His prison sentence was extended to a three-year jail sentence on 16 August 2012 when a Bahraini judge ruled in three cases, all related to Nabeel's participation in peaceful protests. In December 2012, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to two years.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

"You can jail me for three years or 30 years, but I will not back down or retreat [from my human rights work]," Nabeel Rajab, after his sentence was read out on 16 August 2012.



Among the numerous reactions from the local community in August 2012, Nabeel's family sent an open letter to US President Barack Obama, asking him to help guarantee the human rights defender's safety and release from prison and to help support the struggle for freedom, democracy and justice for all the Bahraini people. Click here to read the whole letter.

IFEX joined Nabeel's family and many other human rights groups to call for his immediate release.

"Jailing the most prominent rights defender in the country is a disturbing sign for others who refuse to be silent on Bahrain's human rights record," IFEX Executive Director, Annie Game.

UN rights experts, including Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya and Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue also called for Nabeel's immediate release and for end to persecution of rights defenders in Bahrain.

“The sentencing of Nabeel Rajab represents yet another blatant attempt by the Government of Bahrain to silence those legitimately working to promote basic human rights,” UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.


5 days: Q&A on Nabeel’s release, with colleagues Khalid Ibrahim and Brian Dooley

Khalid Ibrahim, Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, and Brian Dooley, Director of the Human Rights Defenders program of Human Rights First, are among the many individuals who have worked closely with Nabeel to advocate for human rights. Read what they had to say on the local and global significance of Nabeel's release from prison.


  • Why is it essential that Bahraini authorities honour 24 May as the date of Nabeel’s release?

B.D: Nabeel is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in the region and his release is a real test of Bahrain's stated commitment to human rights and free expression. If the government fails that, it will be a severe blow to reform.

K.I: It is very important to release him on 24 May, as he is totally innocent. The reality is that the judiciary has been used to create false charges against him, solely due to his peaceful and legitimate human rights work.

  • What does Nabeel’s release mean for the fight to free expression and the right to peacefully protest in Bahrain?

K.I: Nabeel is a prominent human rights defender who has always called for
peaceful action. His release will strengthen the human rights movement in Bahrain.

B.D: It is a hugely symbolic moment. Has the government really turned the corner? Is it now going to allow peaceful dissent, or not?


  • How is Nabeel a global inspiration?

K.I: With his powerful smile and peaceful work, he gives human rights defenders around the world hope that they will win the fight for the rights to freedom and prosperity of their fellow citizens.

B.D: Everywhere I go – in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, everywhere – people ask me about Nabeel and how he is. Thanks to the Bahrain government, he is now one of the most famous Bahrainis in the world.



6 days: A message from inside Jaw prison

In March 2013, Nabeel wrote an eloquent and inspiring letter to all human rights activists and defenders involved locally, regionally and internationally. The letter was meant as a response to the efforts being made to advocate for his case.

“Despite all the suffering I have been through, your persistent campaign for my release and the release of all prisoners of conscience has kept my morale high and has kept my spirit strong and defiant against unjustness, tyranny and discrimination,” Nabeel Rajab, March 2013.

Click here to read the whole letter.


7 days: A highly respected and effective human rights defender

Nabeel holds several positions with international NGOs. He is Secretary-General of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Deputy Secretary General for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Division, among other posts.

These positions have allowed Nabeel to collaborate with a wide range of other influential international advocacy organisations, including Human Rights Watch.

“I have known and worked closely with Nabeel since 2001. I have never met a human rights defender more generous and dedicated with his time and his impressive leadership skills. With Nabeel, the people of Bahrain have a world-class advocate for the basic human rights that the Bahraini authorities remain intent to deny,” Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch Deputy Director, Middle East and North Africa Division


8 days: A contemporary Gandhi of the human rights movement

Nabeel has been involved in human rights from a young age, kickstarting a lifetime of involvement in international advocacy campaigns during his time as a university student in India, while maintaining a focus on injustice in his home country, Bahrain.

Among his numerous contributions to the Bahraini community, Nabeel has been intimately connected to the establishment of important human rights initiatives. Along with notable human rights advocate Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and a group of committed activists, Nabeel cofounded the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002 (an IFEX member since 2007) and contributed to the foundation of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, an organisation that advocates for the protection of human rights defenders throughout the Gulf region, in 2011. Having dedicated his life and career to defending the human rights of all, he is also widely recognised as a social justice activist committed to non-violence.

The following video was taken during an anti-government protest led by Nabeel in Manama in support of his jailed colleague Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on 31 March 2012. The policeman is shouting: "Assembling is illegal. Please, enough. Your gathering is illegal, retreat. I tell you, assembling is illegal, you have 5 minutes to disperse."



9 days: Meet the man!

Nabeel is known for his effective use of Twitter as a tool to document human rights violations and encourage peaceful advocacy work in Bahrain, a country where most media is state-controlled and the Internet is heavily censored. He has publicly advocated for a democratic system, Internet freedom, and transparent governance despite repeated arrests and campaigns of intimidation by Bahraini officials.

Following his arrest, the show of solidarity from local, regional and international supporters has been tremendous on social media.




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