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Kuwaiti-Canadian rights advocate dies

Naser al-Raas, known for his arrest and torture in Bahrain in 2011, died after a long struggle with heart and lung issues
Bahraini anti-government protesters stand close to makeshift roadblocks in Manama on 14 March 2011 (AFP)
OTTAWA, Canada - Kuwaiti-Canadian human rights activist Naser al-Raas, known for his arrest and torture in Bahrain in 2011, died in Toronto due to health issues on Tuesday morning.

Al-Raas, who was 33 years-old, had long suffered from chronic heart and lung illnesses, according to advocacy group Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB).

ADHRB said the Bahraini government detained and "brutally tortured" al-Raas for attending the pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring unrest that rocked the kingdom in March 2011.

"During his arbitrary imprisonment underground at Al Qala Prison, security officers made Nasser stand for hours at a time and beat him with a rubber hose if he attempted to sleep," ADHRB said in a press release. "It was also reported that police staged multiple mock executions, during which security officers blindfolded and fired past him with rubber bullets."

In 2011, a Bahraini court sentenced al-Raas to five years in prison for violating Bahrain’s assembly laws. There were concerns that he was not provided with the needed healthcare while in jail. He appealed the verdict and was released in 2012.

"I was tortured, I was treated unfairly, I was being beaten, stood for long hours, and ... taken under gun for 31 days to a secret facility in Bahrain," al-Raas told CBC after returning to Ottawa.

"I call on the government to step in and call for a full investigation where I was being held at that time, and to bring the torturers in front of justice."

Husain Abdulla, executive director of ADHRB, said the rights community is greatly saddened by al-Raas's death.

"Naser suffered from chronic illnesses and had multiple open heart surgeries," Abdulla said in a statement. "He endured great torture including electrocution at the hands of the Bahraini government, yet the Canadian government stood by idly as the Bahraini authorities had a free hand to torture one of their citizens."

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, paid tribute to al-Raas in a statement. He described the late Kuwaiti-Canadian activist as a "valiant human rights defender".

Leading Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab also eulogised al-Raas.

"Al-Raas has departed and taught us lessons in freedom and struggles," Rajab tweeted in Arabic. "The whips of torturers did not break his willpower. Sickness did not stop his activism. He remained loyal and resilient through all the stages of the fight against oppression."

In August, al-Raas tweeted that he was about to undergo medical treatment for his heart and lung issues.

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