MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The kingdom of Bahrain may be taking some steps toward reform. Bahrain is the small island state in the Persian Gulf, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. Earlier this year, Bahrain was swept up in protests as the Arab Spring uprising spread. At least 35 people were killed. And a new human rights report commissioned by the Bahraini government detailed systemic abuse of those who were detained.
Nabeel Rajab, a leading Bahraini human rights activist, was among those targeted by the government. Mr. Rajab is here in Washington this week to receive a Democracy Award from the Woodrow Wilson Center, and he joins me here in our studios. Welcome and congratulations.
NABEEL RAJAB: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Why don't you tell us your personal story of what happened in your encounters with the government forces during the uprising this spring?
RAJAB: Well, what happened to me is not different than what happened to hundreds and thousands of Bahraini people. Unfortunately, as you know, we have many people die. What has happened to me is much less than what happened to many people who lost their life fighting for freedom and social justice.
BLOCK: You did suffer some physical abuse yourself at the hands of Bahraini authorities.
RAJAB: Yeah, several time. The last was in last March when I was kidnapped from my house by 25 masked, armed men when they pull me from my bed and beat me in front of my children. And masked me, blindfold me, handcuff me, took me to unknown place, torture me for a couple of hours. Then they brought me back home. Thank God, I came back two hours later. Many people never came back.
BLOCK: I mentioned the human rights report released last week. It was commissioned by the Bahraini government, and it details over hundreds and hundreds of pages abuses during and after the protests there. It was presented to the king at the palace. It doesn't sound like a whitewash. Did it feel to you like a frank and full accounting of what happened?
RAJAB: Well, it's not frank and full. It is a report by the regime that has committed all those violation occurred in Bahrain since last September. So, you don't expect the report to be as credible, as independent as a human right group like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty or FIDH. But there are a lot of things in this report positive.
They talked about systematic torture, systematic violation. They talked about unfair trial were going on. They said about most of people in jail today because of expressing their freedom of expression. They talked about the thousand people who were fired from work, fired from their school and university. And they made it so clear this is illegal.
But we have not seen government taking this recommendation into consideration. People are still in jail. People are still being tortured. Excessive use of force going on against protestor till this moment, and those responsible for all those violation are still in their job committing the same crimes. So, we have not seen yet any positive step by government to implement those recommendations.
BLOCK: The Bahraini king has just appointed a new national commission on reform. It does include some opposition political parties and civil society groups. Do you think that signals a new approach by the kingdom, a genuine tilt toward the kind of democratic reform that you're seeking?
RAJAB: Well, you have a long process to go, but there are couple of negative things we've seen. For example, appointing many people who were part of the problem in the same commission to implement those recommendations. I don't think this will send a positive message to the people.
BLOCK: Even though it does include opposition political parties and members of civil society?
RAJAB: It's like bringing cat and dog in the same cage. And you just want to watch them fighting than you want to achieve anything. Let's see what is going to happen in the coming days. We're looking forward to see the international community headed by United States taking a tougher position. You can't continue having two different language towards two different revolution. In Libya and Syria, one language; in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, is different language.
People of Bahrain, people of Saudi Arabia, people of Kuwait, people of United Arab Emirates, they deserve to have democracy. So, we urge the United States government to treat all revolution in equal manner.
BLOCK: Mr. Rajab, it's good to meet you. Thanks for coming by.
RAJAB: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: Nabeel Rajab is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. In a statement to NPR, the State Department had this to say about Bahrain. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been frank, in public and in private, that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The statement adds that the U.S. intends to hold the Bahraini government to its commitments and to encourage the opposition to respond constructively to secure lasting reform.
Tomorrow, we're scheduled to talk with a representative of the government of Bahrain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.