The imprisonment of Nabeel Rajab is a sobering reminder of the struggle in Bahrain

The Bahraini human rights activist has been jailed for three years for taking part in "illegal gatherings".

Much was made of the importance of Twitter during the Arab Spring. Few people made better use of it than Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. The authorities in his home country are well aware of the power he wields on social media: he is currently serving a three-month sentence after calling for the prime minister to step down on Twitter. Today, he was sentenced to a further three years in jail for attending an “illegal demonstration”.

I interviewed Rajab earlier this year when he visited London, and he explained that Twitter is invaluable when all other media is controlled by the state. He proudly told me that he was the number one Tweeter in Bahrain, and number four in the Arab world, and that in the preceding six months, he had been interrogated three times – all of them regarding his Twitter account. His sentencing today is a sobering reminder of how far tyrannical regimes will go to suppress freedom of speech.

Amnesty International has described it as a “dark day for justice in Bahrain”, saying that Rajab is a prisoner of conscience. Indeed, it is difficult to see his incredibly punitive sentencing in any other light. As one of the country's most long-standing and prominent human rights activists, often seen in the western media, the regime clearly wants him out of the way.

Yet Rajab’s sentencing also throws light on the continued struggle in Bahrain. So far, more than 70 people have been killed in 18 months of protests, which have seen a brutal crackdown against protesters and troops being sent in from neighbouring Saudi Arabia. When we spoke in April, Rajab expressed frustration that the western media were largely ignoring the situation in Bahrain.

Relatives present in the court said that Rajab shouted “three years or 30, you cannot stop me” as his sentence was read out in court. It shows characteristic resilience. When I asked him whether he feared for his safety, he answered:

“I think I've passed that stage. My family used to get worried at the beginning but they know the size of the goal we are fighting for. My life is in danger, but I have my obligations and my business in order so that tomorrow if they kill me, there won’t be any problems for my family.”

With his lawyers readying an appeal, let’s hope he regains his freedom – though it looks like there is minimal hope of a fair trial.

 

A Bahraini Shiite Muslim youth holds a picture of prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a demonstration. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism