Bahraini authorities prevented Enas Oun, the head of the Monitoring and Documentation Section of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), from flying out of Bahrain International Airport on 22 August 2016.  At the airport, officials informed Oun that the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation (CID) issued a travel ban against her on 21 August 2016, which barred her from leaving the country.  She was planning on traveling to Tunisia in order to take part in a human rights workshop when she was stopped.   Oun did not receive any formal notice of the ban prior to arriving at the airport and the authorities did not provide her with any reason for the decision.  It is currently unclear if the government will take any further action against her.

The travel ban on Enas Oun is only one of many recent examples of the Bahraini government actively preventing the free movement of human rights advocates.  On 29 August 2016, the authorities also stopped the Head of International Relations and Women & Children’s Rights Advocacy at BCHR, Nedal Al-Salman, at Bahrain International Airport.  She was attempting to travel to Geneva via Doha to attend meetings at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).  The government prohibited Hussain Radhi, a member of the BCHR Documentation Section, from travelling across the King Fahd Causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, on 23 August 2016.  Officials at the passport office informed Radhi that the Department of Cybercrime at the CID had issued the ban, but they did not disclose the exact reasons behind the order.  Additionally, on the same day, authorities barred Mohammed Al-Tajer, a well-respected lawyer and human rights advocate, from travelling to Turkey.

These latest examples add to the already long list of travel bans issued by the Government of Bahrain so far this summer.  In June, the authorities had imposed a ban on Hussain Radhi and a number of other activists including Ebtisam Al-Saegh, Ebrahim Al-Demistani, and the parents of individuals killed by Bahraini security forces, as they attempted to travel to Geneva to participate in the 32nd session of the HRC.  Many of those banned were planning on taking part in a special event focusing on the current state of human rights in Bahrain.  Activist Abdulnabi Al-Ekry and journalist Nazeeha Saeed were also banned from leaving in June.  Security forces later arrested Saeed, on 17 July, for operating as a journalist without proper authorization from the Information Affairs Authority (IAA).

Such restrictions on activists and human rights defenders constitute not only clear violations of the right to freedom of movement, but also key tools by which the government continues to suppress free speech and expression.  Travel bans prevent activists from internationally advocating for human rights in Bahrain and have become another instrument of reprisal.  The Bahraini government, which is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has agreed to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is bound by its international agreements to respect its citizens’ rights to freedom of movement, speech, and expression.  The recent series of travel bans for human rights defenders exposes its continued denial of these rights, as well as its continued violation of these international commitments.  The Government of Bahrain must meet its obligations and put a stop to these attacks on free speech, expression, and movement.

Danielle Lilly is an Advocacy Intern at ADHRB.