Many, including Rajab himself, correlate his freedom to a
strong personal relationship with those international figures, many of whom
were in Manama for the first months of the island kingdom's Shi'a revolt.
In the last year, he's attended conferences across the Arab
world and has traveled to Washington, D.C., to publicize the ongoing violence
against what he says are peaceful protests against the monarchy, which is made
up of the country's Sunni minority.
"He has deftly used his high media profile and connections
with Western diplomats to stay out of prison," says Barak Barfi, a New America
Foundation fellow who was on the ground in Manama last March. "Nevertheless,
his plight has been much better than that of other regime critics such as
Singace, who, lacking Rajab's high-level ties, find themselves imprisoned for
long periods of time."
But Rajab hasn't had an easy time, and Bahrain revolution is
At a rally outside the King's palace in Riffa last March, he
stood on a dirt field, providing information and reassurance to protesters and
journalists. In buoyant spirits, he marveled at the size of the crowd. At the
same rally, fellow activist al-Singace, briefly freed from prison in a
government show of goodwill, parted the crowd in his wheelchair, flowers thrown
at his feet.
Rajab is the only highly visible Bahraini activist still able
to attend those marches, which though largely ignored by international media, have
happened most Fridays for the last year, a testament to the stubborn will of
the country's activist corps.
Rajab says there is "violence every night" inflicted by
security forces on the streets of Bahrain's poorer Shi'a neighborhoods. His
claim is backed up by a constant stream of information coming from cyber activists
based on those very streets.
The devastation, they say, comes largely from the tear gas
grenades that are often shot into houses or overhead into a crowd, as they were
that day on the field in Riffa.
"It's like shooting a cannon at someone," Rajab says.
"They're supposed to be rolled on the ground. What they're doing on these crowded,
small streets is throwing tear gas into people's homes. It's especially
complicated if you have asthma or chronic disease."
In the last year, two physical attacks on Rajab, allegedly
by government forces, made global headlines. "His good relations with Western
governments have not been able to prevent the regime from persistently
harassing him," Barfi says.
For a period of months last year, Rajab was forbidden to
In his broken English, he says the family home in Bani
Jamrah, a hard-hit Shi'a neighborhood in Manama, has become a favored target
for police -- and that his wife and two children, all of whom suffer from
asthma, breathe tear gas most nights.
"I am one of the people," he said in January, by phone from
Tunis. "I have taken a role in the uprising because I believe we need to stand
up. It's dangerous and costly, but it's the only thing we feel will bring about