(Washington, DC) - The Bahraini government should order security forces to stop harassing Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and return any information illegally copied from his laptop computer and mobile phone, Human Rights Watch said today.
"Bahrain's leaders repeatedly insist that the government respects human rights, but Nabeel Rajab's treatment tells another story," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should make clear to the security forces that the harassment of human rights defenders needs to stop immediately."
In addition to presiding over the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab is a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Division.
Rajab told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of December 2, 2010, he was waiting to board a flight at Bahrain International Airport when a plainclothes security officer approached and asked Rajab to return with the man to the passport control area. When Rajab asked the man's identity, he gave his name and said he was with the National Security Agency, an internal security bureau that reports directly to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, but is not part of airport security.
At the passport control area, at the officers' request, Rajab turned on his computer. Rajab told the security officers that he would be willing to review contents of his computer with the officers, but that he would not willingly allow them to access it out of his presence, expressing concerns that his computer would be tampered with.
When Rajab asked the officers if they had a judicial warrant or other authorization, they replied that as security they could "do what we want" and that Rajab should "trust" them. When Rajab phoned his wife to let her know what was happening, the officers forcibly took his phone and prevented him from continuing the call.
The officers also forcibly took the computer and an iPod belonging to his son and carried them, along with the phone, into a nearby closed room for approximately a half hour. When the computer was returned, it was on and showing the computer's "systems" screen, indicating that information may have been downloaded or copied.
The entire incident took approximately one hour, and Rajab was able to board his flight just minutes before takeoff.
In early September 2010, the official Bahrain News Agency and a newspaper close to the government published a crude attack on Rajab, alleging that he was part of a "terrorist network" and that he had passed "false information" to international organizations for the purpose of "harming Bahrain's reputation." In late September, Bahraini authorities prevented Rajab from travelling to Saudi Arabia.