by avinash kalla Human Rights activist Nabeel Rajab who was assaulted by police in Manama, Bahrain on January 7 2012 while protesting to free political prisoners, feels that things are turning from bad to worse and Bahrain is on the brink of economic collapse. With incidents of violence on the rise, he feels the way out of this situation is only though peaceful talks. In an exclusive interview with WeSpeakNews from a village in Bahrain Rajab shares his thoughts as an activist on the scenario in his home country – Bahrain.
WSN: How are things with you now?
Nabeel: I am doing better.
WSN: Can you share with us what happened on January 7th while you were protesting?
Nabeel: We organized a peaceful protest to raise a voice for the release of political prisoners. We were marching peacefully till the cops interrupted. They made an announcement threatening us to leave in five minutes or face their wrath. A minute and half later they attacked us. I was cornered and beaten by them, few minutes later another policeman came and asked them to stop. After this they took me to the hospital.
WSN: A voice on twitter says that your protest was illegal as you did not take prior permissions?
Nabeel: What permission are they talking about? They don’t give any permission to protest peacefully, they know they won’t permit and that is why they insist! This is why there is violence; peaceful protest is not allowed here nor is there any room for it.
WSN: How do you view the current situation in Bahrain?
Nabeel: Things haven’t changed much since the February 14, 2011 protest when people took on to the streets looking for reforms. Last April the government stopped foreign journalists and human right activist to enter the country and this is one reason why you don’t hear much about Bahrain on the global front.
The situation today is such that our economy has almost collapsed, we are depending heavily on Saudi funding. People’s houses are being raided and robbed, things are going from bad to worse and the government isn’t doing much to battle the situation.
With very less information outflow, when you run reports on YouTube and other social media tools, lot of people are interested and it creates discussions. The reason is how you can find a story about us when no journalist is coming inside. But we are the most active nation on social media in the Arab region.
WSN: But there is a polarity of view, it’s not a free run for the protesters there are people condemning their acts?
Nabeel: I am not denying that there is no opposition, but that is not in numbers. The government has strong PR Company that creates fake Facebook and twitter ids and generates fake public opinion. Whoever writes stories, reports or tweets against them the government agency working in social media works to kill it or drain it down
Yes there are some people against us, those who think democracy will harm the country. You need to understand that we are one of the most corrupt country and people are benefitting from it. The interests of rich people are harmed and not of the poor people, but despite all odds we have people supporting the revolution. All I can say is write any story about the US and compare it with a story on Bahrain, Bahrain will generate more reaction.
WSN: In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria the revolution was on similar lines and we saw change coming, why no reaction in Bahrain?
Nabeel: There is a difference here, if you look closely some organized groups of demonstrators and protesters took on the street in the countries you’ve mentioned. Whereas, during protests in Bahrain half of our country is on streets.
When it started out people were not interested in regimen change, they wanted reforms like better policies, cooperation of people in governance, respect for rights. But the government reacted with violence; it invited Saudis, brought mercenaries from Asian and Arab regions.
Unlike the Arab world where a complete change was called; here the scene was different.
Also because of Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of countries ruled by dictators and families who run the countries as family business and interests of West and others in it there is no much international support.
Any change here will impact Qatar and Arabia, which shows why Al Jazeera (Arabic) that covers Egypt and Tunisia aggressively was silent when it came to Bahrain. Because, Qatar is ruled by a family that doesn’t want a want a regimen change here.
Apart from that there is USA and other western countries that showed their support in Libya and other revolutions. But when it comes to Bahrain they are silent. Because for them Bahrain is a big region for selling their arms and importing oil. The dictators in this region are guarantee for USA and others in a conflict situation.
They think democracy might harm their strategic alliance; we are all victims of these complications.
But we are committed to our cause and the struggle is on.
WSN: Have the demands changed now? Do you still want reform or a complete change?
Nabeel: We are fighting for
Principles like a functioning parliamentary democracy
A country free of corruption
Respect for human rights.
Here you have political groups that want reform and some who wants a complete regimen change. But there can be a compromise if both parties sit and talk.
The regimen wants to run Bahrain as their own business and the people of Bahrain don’t accept it any more.
WSN: Who constitute the opposition? Is there a unified opposition under a leadership?
Nabeel: There is no leadership, but different voices. The government tried to create a divide using the sectarian card and failed miserable. Today, the opposition is more united than it was on February 14.
As for central leadership it doesn’t exist for half of them are in jail, but all opposition is united.
WSN: The F1 chiefs have rejected the plea to Boycott 2012 Grand prix. How do you take that?
Nabeel: It’s sad; we feel that when the country is facing such tough times how can you allow F1, which is like festival to take place. People are being killed, looted and even the employees of F1 are subjected to the same treatment and some put behind bars. How can they accept this? They should instead say improve human rights condition, get people out of jail including F1 staff and only then we will hold the race.
WSN: The anti protester group condemn the violence at the hands of protesters, how do you respond to that?
Nabeel: After facing torture for 11 months some people are turning violent. I don’t subscribe to the violence; there have been isolated cases of using moltovs.
But this is the reaction of people who have been suffering at the hands of the government for long, violence is taking place because the government is killing people. It’s not an action; it’s a reaction for killing their countrymen. If the government stops killing I am sure these acts too will stop.
WSN: What according to you lies ahead for Bahrain?
Nabeel: I believe violence can sort nothing, the government and opposition needs to sit and talk, that is the only way out of the crisis.