Naser al-Raas, Ottawa human rights activist tortured in Bahrain, dies at 33

An Ottawa activist who survived arrest and torture in Bahrain in 2011 to become a vocal defender of human rights has died while awaiting a heart and lung transplant.

'Bright light for human rights has dimmed,' says Amnesty International Canada head

Naser al-Raas,33, died around 2 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2016, while undergoing tests in preparation for a heart and lung transplant. (Facebook)

An Ottawa activist who survived arrest and torture in Bahrain in 2011 to become a vocal defender of human rights has died while awaiting a heart and lung transplant.

Naser al-Raas, 33, was undergoing medical tests in preparation for the major operation in Toronto when his heart failed, according to Amnesty International Canada. 

He died around 2 a.m. Monday.

"It is so painfully sad that it is Naser's heart — which was so full of love, joy and inspiration — that was not able to keep this wonderful young man going," wrote Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, on the organization's website.

So much had been thrown his way and he kept surviving and kept surviving, and now this.- Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada

Speaking to CBC, Neve described al-Raas as "just such a magnificent young man and just such a survivor. So much had been thrown his way and he kept surviving and kept surviving, and now this."

Al-Raas made headlines five years ago when he was arrested and jailed for 31 days in Bahrain for taking part in pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring uprising. He told CBC News he was electrocuted and subjected to mock executions. 

The Canadian government and human rights groups including Amnesty International fought for al-Raas's release. 

In 2012 al-Raas returned to Ottawa and started building a new life. He married a woman from Bahrain who he met during the protests. They had a son together and al-Raas enrolled at Carleton University to study human rights.

He became a "remarkable and courageous" human rights activist who never missed an Amnesty International rally in Ottawa, said Neve, who also considered al-Raas a friend.
Alex Neve (left), secretary general of Amnesty International Canada and Naser al-Raas (right) at a rally. (Facebook)

Neve said Al-Raas shared his personal story at events, hoping to help end torture around the world.

"He spoke to audiences large and small anywhere and everywhere to push that message," said Neve. "Every time he did he touched hearts and opened minds. We are going to miss him so terribly."

Al-Raas suffered from an underlying heart condition — a chronic pulmonary embolism — before he was detained, but the problem was exacerbated by his time in jail, according to Neve. 

"I feel a sad sense of loss because a really bright light for human rights has dimmed with Naser's death, and that should be sad for all of us," said Neve.