Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters flooded a major highway in Bahrain for the first sanctioned opposition rally in months. They called on the government to release a prominent human rights activist and demanded greater freedom.
The motorway, which links capital city Manama with Shiite villages, was swarming with demonstrators, the crowd extending for at least two miles (three kilometers). Protesters chanted pro-democracy slogans, waved Bahraini flags and called on the government to free Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist recently sentenced to three years in prison for supposedly organizing illegal protests.
“We do not forget the prisoners!” was one of the chants.
The mass rally was the first legal protest in over a month. In July, the government imposed a temporary ban on protests, with the interior ministry stating that the curfew was necessary to “restore order.”
It was in that period that Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison for participating in an “illegal assembly” and “calling for a march without prior notification.”
In June, Rajab had received a three-month prison sentence for a tweet that prosecutors say offended the residents of a Sunni-dominated neighborhood of the capital. In the tweet, Rajab alleged that the residents of the neighborhood only supported Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa because of financial incentives.
A judge later overturned the Twitter sentence, but Rajab must still serve his other, lengthier prison term for allegedly holding an illegal march.
Pro-democracy protests in the country have been ongoing since February 2011.
Colin Cavell, a former lecturer at the University of Bahrain, believes the nation’s people are resolute in their demands for democracy.
“They’re tired of a single family running the entire country with kangaroo courts, with no justice at all and with disparity among the population,” he told RT.
He also noted that while the US has traditionally propped up autocratic rulers and despotic monarchies to further its regional interests, a new strategy may soon be required.
“The United States wants to retain its hegemonic control not only over Bahrain, but over the entire Persian Gulf monarchs in the entire Middle East in order to keep that crude oil flowing,” he remarked. “However, they realize with the increasing democratic opposition in all of these countries, that they can no longer lean on these autocratic rulers to retain their control.”