By the Amnesty International Chicago local group
Nabeel Rajab is serving a five year sentence for something which in most countries would not be a crime: posting tweets critical of his government. Since his sentence was handed down by a Bahraini court in February of this year, the Chicago chapter of Amnesty International has been considering ways to effectively campaign on his behalf.
One of the first things we did was to set up Google news alerts for anything Nabeel related. That’s how we learned that Paris declared Nabeel an honorary citizen in June 2018, and that Bahrain had been upset enough by this that they had brought it up specifically with French diplomats.
Reading these stories made clear that it was possible to pursue a meaningful human rights agenda at the state or local level, even if the national mood seemed less receptive. That the Bahrain government had paid attention to this level of activism was also encouraging. It struck us that if additional cities passed similar resolutions, it would send a powerful message.
So our group decided to get Nabeel Rajab declared an honorary citizen of Chicago.
To do this we had to get a resolution passed by the City Council. In Chicago, if you don’t know the Mayor personally, your best approach to the City Council is through an alderman. Luckily my alderman offered “ward nights” at which constituents can have one-on-one meetings with him. Ward night arrived, and I headed to my alderman’s office to make my pitch in person. I also brought:
• A draft of a resolution based on the structure and language of previous city resolutions
• Extensive footnotes to the resolution to make vetting it as easy as possible
• Print outs of a few news stories about Nabeel for background
After asking a few questions about Nabeel’s case, my alderman surprised me by saying that he would love to sponsor our resolution.
On September 20th, 2018, the City Council of Chicago passed our resolution to make Nabeel Rajab an honorary citizen.
However, it’s one thing to have a resolution on a city web page and another to alert the world to it. It would also be nice to convince other cities to pass similar resolutions. That’s where you come in! If you’re intrigued we’d offer a few other points of advice:
• Make sure to include your Local Group leaders and Legislative Coordinators. They’ll be able to help you get everything done.
• Have publicity materials ready to send to news organizations the day your resolution passes.
• If you have time to sign a petition or write some letters to help Nabeel we have instructions here.
Hopefully more cities will decide to grant Nabeel honorary citizenship. Then what is now a few isolated resolutions could become a movement, the collective voice of which would be too loud for Bahrain or the world to ignore.