HOW MANY MORE TIMES ARE WE GOING TO READ ABOUT “CANADIANS’ LEAVING CANADA TO GO INTO KNOWN MUSLIM WAR ZONES TO ‘VACATION’, ‘CHECK ON THE FAMILY’, AND HEAR OF THEIR ARREST…AND HOW THEY ARE INNOCENT, AND NEED CANADA TO COME SAVE THEIR ASSES ONCE AGAIN..CAUSE YOU KNOW, HE WASN’T PARTICIPATING IN THE RIOTS..JUST OBSERVING…
Canadian in hiding after being charged, sentenced for ‘hatred’ against Bahraini regime
Tristin Hopper Jan 25, 2012 – 10:12 PM ET
Naser al-Raas has been sentenced to five years in prison
Stripped of his Canadian passport and pursued by security forces, Naser al-Raas remains a fugitive in Bahrain 10 months after he became caught up in the country’s crackdown on the Arab Spring.
“It is because I am foreign and they tried to link the demonstrations with foreign influence,” said the 29-year-old IT specialist by Skype from an undisclosed location in the tiny Persian Gulf nation. “Not even [my fiancée] knows where I am,” he said.
Originally from Ottawa, Mr. al-Raas was working in Kuwait when Arab Spring protests erupted in nearby Bahrain. As the situation worsened, on March 6 Mr. al-Raas flew to the island nation to check on his five sisters. In the course of two weeks, he paid several visits to Pearl Roundabout in the capital of Manama, the epicentre of the protests.
“I wasn’t participating, I considered myself an observer,” he said. Although he did witness — and videotape — security forces attacking unarmed protesters during a March 17 suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. Thirteen people were killed by security forces during the crackdown, five more were killed through torture, according to government figures.
On March 20, when Mr. al-Raas arrived at the Bahrain International Airport to return to Kuwait, he said he was seized by four policemen in civilian clothes, beaten, stripped him of his passport and held at gunpoint. Mr. al-Raas was placed in solitary confinement at the country’s Al Qurain prison. Like dozens of others who were brought to the facility, Mr. al-Raas asserts he endured electric shocks and beatings.
When friends and Canadian officials asked where he was, Bahraini authorities reported only that he was “missing,” according to Mr. al-Raas.
Released without explanation on April 20, Mr. al-Raas was called back to the prison in June to retrieve his passport. Instead, he was arrested, beaten and charged with the kidnap of a police officer.
Suffering from pulmonary embolism, a heart and lung condition, Mr. al-Raas has had two open-heart surgeries and requires anti-clotting medication. Denied the medication while in custody, Mr. al-Raas needed to be hospitalized four times. He views further imprisonment as a “death sentence.”
“As a medical practitioner, I do not support the incarceration of this young man as I believe his life will be in danger,” wrote Dr. Fraser Rubens with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in a November letter to Bahraini authorities.
Mr. al-Raas was acquitted of the kidnapping charge on Oct. 4, but only weeks later a civilian court sentenced him to five years in prison on new charges of “disrupting the general security” and inciting “hatred and contempt against the regime,” according to an unofficial translation provided by Amnesty International.
Mr. al-Raas says he went into hiding after the conviction.
“In our view, there is absolutely no reasonable basis for the charges,” Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International in Ottawa, told Postmedia in October.
In late November, an inquiry commissioned by the Bahraini royal family concluded that security forces had used “excessive and unnecessary force,” in suppressing the demonstrations. In response, among other reforms, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa freed 310 jailed protesters.
Regardless, the charges against Mr. al-Raas remain. On Jan. 24, a Bahraini court turned down his appeal.
“Canada is … urging the Government of Bahrain to review the case in light of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, as well as urging that Mr. al-Raas’ conviction be reviewed and his sentence commuted,” Diane Ablonczy, Minister of State for Consular Affairs, told the House of Commons on Dec. 14.
However, groups pressing for Mr. al-Raas’ release maintain that Canadian authorities have “done nothing.”
“They have not officially called for his release, or provided consular assistance,” wrote Calgary-based campaigner Katie Edwards in an email to the Post.
Meanwhile, Bahraini demonstrators continue to clash daily with police in small protests. A travel advisory on the Department of Foreign Affairs website advises Canadians to “avoid all political gatherings, crowds and demonstrations … as they can turn violent without warning,” adding that visitors exercise “particular caution” on Valentine’s Day, the first anniversary of the start of demonstrations.
“The revolution is escalating now,” said Mr. al-Raas. “If they wanted to arrest me, they could find me.”
National Post, with files from Postmedia News • Email: email@example.com