London - December 12th, 2012

Julian Assange released a statement today calling for the immediate release of BCHR President Nabeel Rajab.

Statement from Julian Assange on Nabeel Rajab:

"I last saw Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, in March 2012. Nabeel flew to the United Kingdom, where I interviewed him for my television programme The World Tomorrow. While he had been on the plane, his house had been surrounded by armed police.

I asked him what he was going to do now. Wasn't he fearful about returning home? He was adamant. He would return to Bahrain.

“[T]his is the struggle, this is the freedom, this is democracy that we are fighting for. It has a cost and we have to pay the cost, and the cost might be very expensive as we have paid a high cost in Bahrain, and we are willing to pay that for the changes that we are fighting for.”

Once he was back in Bahrain, a campaign of judicial harassment began. He was charged with illegal assembly and insulting the Prime Minister on Twitter. He was sentenced to three years in jail, for daring to claim his right to freedom of expression and association.

On December 11, after a long campaign of resistance, his sentence was reduced to two years.

This is not enough.

Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience. He should not be in jail at all. He should never have been put in jail. He must be released.

Immediately before his imprisonment, Nabeel Rajab was the leading voice of the Bahrain Spring. He has carried the banner, raised around the Islamic world in 2011, which cried out for ‘Huriyyah, Adalah Ijtima’iyah, Karamah' - for Freedom, Social Justice, Dignity. What we know as the Arab Spring is, in Arabic, the ‘Thawraat l-Karamah’ - the ‘Revolutions of Dignity.’

Nabeel's commitment to the moral importance of this movement cannot be doubted. Along with many other Bahrainis, he has given over his life and freedom for the reform of his country. Together, they have given everything. It is the regime that must now give ground.

The Bahraini regime has repeatedly promised reform, even commissioning a report on its own human rights abuses which found it guilty of practicing torture and the excessive use of force. It has failed to implement all but the most superficial of this report’s recommendations.

In particular, Recommendation 1722 (h) of this report called on the government, “To review convictions and commute sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence, or, as the case may be, to drop outstanding charges against them.”

The regime has instead continued to imprison activists like Nabeel, for crimes solely related to their freedom of expression and assembly. Thirteen leading activists and opposition leaders remain in jail, despite international recognition of their status as political prisoners.

Originally slow to comment, even the President of the United States has asserted that "The only real way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail."

Words do not match actions, however. Neither the US, which has a large military base in Bahrain, or the UK have applied any real pressure for the release of political prisoners, despite acknowledging this to be central to the reform process.

This is not a sophisticated issue. Our obligations are clear. The political prisoners of Bahrain must be freed as a necessary step towards peaceful reform. There will be no dignity in Bahrain until Nabeel Rajab is released."

END