Naser al-Raas

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Naser Bader al-Raas
Born c. 1983
Kuwait
Nationality Canadian
Occupation IT specialist
Known for 2011-12 imprisonment in Bahrain

Naser Bader al-Raas (Arabic: ناصر بدر الراس‎) (born c. 1983, Kuwait) is a Canadian national who was detained by the Bahraini government for attending a pro-democracy protest of the Bahraini uprising. The charges were later dropped, and he returned to Canada on 16 February 2012.

Arrest and trials[edit]

In 2011, al-Raas was working as an IT specialist in Kuwait. (al-Raas was born in Kuwait, but holds Canadian citizenship and lived from 1996 to 2000 in Ottawa.)[1] In March, concerned by the growing unrest in Bahrain, al-Raas planned a three-week trip to visit his five sisters there and check on their safety. During his stay, he also attended an opposition rally,[2] though he later stated in court that he had gone only to observe and had not participated.[3]

However, on 20 March, while attempting to depart Bahrain via the Bahrain International Airport, he was seized by four plainclothes police officers.[2] He later stated that he was taken to an underground cell in Al Qala Prison and tortured for a month by being made to stand for hours at a time and beaten with a rubber hose if he attempted to sleep.[3] Police reportedly also staged a mock execution in which they blindfolded al-Raas and fired past him with rubber bullets.[4] According to The Toronto Star, Doctors Without Borders later recorded medical evidence confirming al-Raas's reports that he was tortured while in custody.[5] With his health steadily deteriorating, Al-Raas was released on 28 April to the hospital, after being forced to make a video confession that he was an Iranian spy.[5]

The police had confiscated his Canadian passport, and after leaving the hospital, al-Raas asked for its return. On 7 June, he was asked to come to the police station to collect it, at which point he was arrested and allegedly beaten again. He was then charged with kidnapping and murdering a Bahraini police officer.[3] The military National Safety Court found him not guilty of the charge on 4 October.[2] However, al-Raas was then rearrested and named as a co-defendant in a separate case. He was tried alongside twelve other defendants for participation in the March rally, on charges of "inciting hatred towards the regime, participating in illegal gatherings and giving false information to the media".[2] The thirteen were sentenced to five years' imprisonment apiece.[3] Al-Raas was later critical of the Canadian government for observing his trial, but doing allegedly little to help him.[6]

Appeal and flight[edit]

On 24 January 2012, twelve of the thirteen defendants were acquitted by Bahrain's Third Superior Court. Al-Raas's sentence was the only one to be upheld. His fiancee, Zainab Ahmed, attributed to this to court sessions missed due to the declining health of al-Raas, who suffers from hypertension and has previously had two open heart surgeries.[3]

On 25 January, al-Raas briefly went into hiding rather than turn himself over to authorities. He told an interviewer by phone that "My greatest fear is being tortured again ... I experienced it once before and it was like hell."[3] He was arrested on 1 February 2012 at a courthouse, after another hearing for his appeals case. He was then reportedly sent to Jaw Prison.[7]

All charges against al-Raas were formally dropped on 16 February 2012, and he returned to Canada.[8]

International response[edit]

The Canadian government stated that it was "extremely disappointed" that al-Raas's appeal was denied, asking the Bahraini government to review the case to ensure "free political expression and protection from arbitrary detention".[6] Amnesty International began a letter-writing campaign on al-Raas's behalf, calling for the charges against him to be dismissed and stating that the organization would designate him a prisoner of conscience if he were detained.[2] Canadian activists also founded a grassroots organization, "Free Naser", on his behalf.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Canadian fears death in Bahrain prison". CBC News. 1 November 2001. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kelly Roche (25 January 2012). "Ottawa man faces prison in Bahrain". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Thandi Fletcher (26 January 2012). "'I saw death': Canadian in Bahrain says he's hiding to escape his torturers". Vancouver Sun. Canada. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Thandi Fletcher (26 October 2011). "Canadian fears more torture from officials in Bahrain". Vancouver Sun. Canada. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Josh Tapper (25 October 2011). "Canadian jailed for protesting in Bahrain". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Bahrain urged to review Ottawa man's case". CBC News. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Natalie Stechyson (1 February 2012). "Wife fears torture after arrested Canadian Naser al-Raas held in ‘one of the worst prisons’ in Bahrain". National Post. Canada. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "Bahrain drops all charges against Canadian Naser Al-Raas, who claims he was tortured". National Post. 16 February 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  9. ^ "Canadian man arrested in Bahrain court house". CBC News. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012.