President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) [advocacy website] Nabeel Rajab, an outspoken critic of violent government crackdowns against protesters, may face criminal charges for the role he has played in anti-government protests, his lawyer said Sunday. Rajab was arrested [AP report] just before a planned demonstration against the imprisonment of a prominent rights activist, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and is charged with participation in illegal gatherings [official Twitter page, in Arabic]. The government has responded violently to protests, which began last year, resulting in more than 70 deaths [BCHR report]. The protesters are seeking grants of basic freedoms similar to other movements in the Arab Spring, including democratic elections, but protests in Bahrain have not been as successful as those in other Arab nations.
Protests and demonstrations in Bahrain [BBC backgrounder] have been ongoing since February 2011 [JURIST report]. In March, Amnesty International urged [JURIST report] the Bahraini government to release Al-Khawaja, who had at that time been on a hunger strike in protest of his charges for 50 days. That same month, the UN expressed concern [JURIST report] over the escalation of the government crackdowns on protesters. In addition to open violence against activists, Human Rights Watch released a report in March claiming protesters are being convicted in unfair trials [JURIST report]. All of this comes after the government announced constitutional reforms [JURIST report] in January that were rejected by opposition groups.