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U.S. State Department with-holds ‘calls’ for Freedom of detained but Expedites Arms Sales

Nabeel Rajab: Why Did the U.S. State Department Drag Its Feet?
By Sanjeev Bery – 21 August, 2012 – Amnesty International

On August 16th, Bahraini political activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in jail for his peaceful role in protests critical of Bahrain’s monarchy. He had already been in prison since July 9th, when he was convicted of libel after sending a tweet that criticized Bahrain’s Prime Minister.

But despite all of this, the US State Department did not publicly call on its military ally to release Nabeel Rajab until after his three year sentence had already been handed down.

Why did the US State Department wait so long to come to Nabeel Rajab’s defense?

There were plenty of missed opportunities along the way. One such moment was on August 1st, when Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner testified (see pg 16) at a congressional hearing focused on Bahrain. In his written testimony (pg 4), Assistant Secretary Posner called on the Government of Bahrain to “drop charges against all persons accused of offenses involving political expression and freedom of assembly.”

But in response to a question from Congressman Jim McGovern regarding Nabeel Rajab, Assistant Secretary Posner was more opaque. He stated that Rajab’s case was “a bit more complicated on its facts,” that “there needs to be a due process of law,” and that “the case needs to be heard expeditiously.”

The US State Department should have been unequivocal. Assistant Secretary Posner should have stated that Rajab should not be facing charges for protesting the government or sitting in prison for sending a a tweet.

Indeed, Nabeel Rajab is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. As stated in our latest Urgent Action:

Despite the [Bahraini] authorities’ claims to the contrary, abuses continue to be committed against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family’s rule. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi’a majority’s deeply seated sense of discrimination and political marginalization, which has exacerbated sectarian divisions in the country. Nabeel Rajab’s latest conviction and sentence starkly contradict the facade of reform showcased by the Bahraini authorities.

Assistant Secretary Posner’s comments obscured Rajab’s situation in other ways as well. In response to a question by Congressman Keith Ellison, Mr. Posner described Rajab as in “detention” and that “the case has been, as I said, adjourned until September.” This was, of course, factually incorrect. Rajab had already been convicted and imprisoned – not just detained – after tweeting criticism of the Prime Minister.

Fortunately, Members of Congress did not limit themselves in the way that State Department officials have. In the days before Rajab’s three year prison sentence was given, 19 Members of Congress publicly called on the King of Bahrain to release Rajab. The effort was led by the above mentioned Rep. Keith Ellison, with the support of Rep. Jim McGovern and others. …more

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