- Associated Press - Sunday, November 24, 2019

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - A U.S. senator visited the home of a prominent human rights activist in Bahrain long detained by the island kingdom on internationally criticized charges and called for “freedom of expression” to be defended there.

Activists shared photographs with The Associated Press showing Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, visiting the home of Nabeel Rajab on Saturday night.

Murphy met with Rajab’s son, Adam Rajab, as the family hosted a weekly open house to hear from other activists and artists in Bahrain, a small kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.

“America should be a consistent voice for democracy and human rights, which is why I went to visit Nabeel Rajab’s family in Bahrain,” Murphy said in a statement Sunday. “Advocating for the freedom of expression must be an element of every bilateral relationship, which is why I raised his case, along with the broader need to protect open civil discourse, with Bahraini government officials I met with in Manama.”

Murphy had been in the kingdom for the annual Manama Dialogue security conference.

Bahrain’s government and the U.S. Embassy in Manama did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

Rajab has been detained since June 2016 and later convicted on internationally criticized charges over comments he made on Twitter and in a TV interview. His detention comes amid a widespread crackdown on all dissent in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

A major figure in Bahrain’s 2011 protests that saw tens of thousands from the country’s majority Shiite population and others demand greater rights from the Sunni-led monarchy, he is also the co-founder and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a founding director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

In the years since the 2011 protests, Bahrain has dismantled opposition groups, imprisoned activists and revoked the citizenship of over 700 people. Amid the crackdown, local Shiite militant groups have carried out small attacks on security forces.

In a video filmed at Rajab’s home, Murphy refers to Bahrain’s government as a “regime” and says Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two Democratic candidates in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, would “find the treatment of Shiite here abhorrent.”

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