2 September 2016—In the past two weeks, the Bahraini government has prevented a number of human rights defenders from travelling abroad, among them were three members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). Nearly 30 activists have been banned from travel since June. We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the Government of Bahrain’s use of arbitrary travel bans against human rights defenders and activists.

Bahrain has imposed travel bans against activists ahead of the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) this month. While attempting to travel to attend a human rights workshop abroad, BCHR’s Enas Oun was barred from travelling on 22 August. The next day, Husain Radhi, another BCHR member, was blocked from exiting Bahrain, continuing his travel restriction since he attempted to travel to the HRC in June. BCHR’s Nedal al-Salman was barred from travel on 29 August when attempting to travel to Geneva for advocacy ahead of the 33rd HRC session, which begins in September.

In June, Bahraini officials barred 13 activists from travelling outside the country, at least eight of whom had been travelling Geneva to participate in 32nd Session of the HRC. Some of these activists had attended UN workshops held in Bahrain on engaging with UN mechanisms. These arbitrary measures to restrict human rights defenders’ and activists’ freedom of movement therefore represent an act of reprisal against them for their attempted engagement with the Council and for cooperating with UN mechanisms.

While travel bans have been used before to limit the movement of high-profile activists, including Nabeel Rajab and religious freedoms defender Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, the Government of Bahrain recently began to employ them systematically. We have documented four other incidents in late August. These include human rights lawyer Mohammad al-Tajer on 23 August, and activists Ebtisam al-Sayegh and Ahmed al-Saffar, both on 27 August. Al-Sayegh and al-Tajer had previously been banned from travel June and July 2016 respectively. Other activists banned from travel included trade unionist Jalila al-Salman, activist Taha Al-Durazi and journalist Nazeeha Saeed. Al-Durazi is currently being prosecuted for “illegal gathering” alongside religious freedoms campaigner Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, who has been on travel ban since 2015.

“What we are witnessing is an organized effort to silence civil society by the Bahraini authorities,” stated Husain Abdulla, Executive Director for Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain. “Bahrain’s actions are a rejection of both the United Nations and its international human rights commitments. The international community should not tolerate such harassment and reprisals.”

In addition to preventing Bahrainis from engaging with international human rights mechanisms, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister has made a number of disturbing comments in regards to the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights himself. In August, Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa stated: “the Kingdom of Bahrain does not care about any voice that seeks to blackmail it from abroad, and particularly the Human Rights Council.” And, following criticism about the kingdom’s rising repression from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, the Foreign Minister responded on Twitter: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of a high commissioner who is powerless.”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “The Foreign Minister’s insults to the UN human rights mechanisms illustrate Bahrain’s disregard of international human rights norms and reflects the escalating crisis in the country. It is proof that Bahrain intends to continue its repression. The UN must take action to show that harassing human rights defenders is unacceptable.”

Therefore, we, the undersigned NGOs, call on the Government of Bahrain to:

  • immediately and unconditionally lift the travel bans imposed on civil society activists and allow them to freely engage with the UN; and
  • Stop all reprisal actions against human rights defenders who work with the UN mechanisms and allow them to work freely.
  • Respect the freedom of movement of all Bahrainis.

We call on United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to:

  • Suspend all technical programs with Bahrain until the full rights and safety of all human rights defenders and activists, including participants of these programs, are effectively guaranteed.

Signatories:

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)

European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR)