Bahrain: denationalization, reprisals and travel bans against human rights defenders – will it ever end?

June 23, 2016

Bahrain does everything it can to keep itself in the spotlight of human rights concern. A coalition of NGOs, as well as the UN and (reluctantly) the USA have recently come out with criticism over travel bans, reprisals, denationalization and other violations:

When the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council opened in Geneva on 13 June 2016, Nabeel Rajab, Bahrain’s best-known human rights defender, was arrested after dozens of police officers raided his home at around 5am and confiscated his electronic devices. The day before, Bahraini human rights defenders and victims of violations were prevented from flying to Geneva. On 16 June 21 NGOs signed a statement of serious alarm by Bahrain’s restrictions civil society especially preventing them from engaging with the UN.

[Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR – nominee of the MEA 2012), founding Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, was reportedly arrested under order from the Ministry of Interior’s Cybercrimes Unit. Bahraini officials had imposed a travel ban on Rajab a year ago, and since April 2015 have maintained charges against him for crimes related to freedom of expression online. Despite the submission of several appeals against the ban, authorities remained unresponsive. On 14 June 2016, Rajab was transferred to the public prosecution; and new charges were brought against him of allegedly ‘publishing and broadcasting false news that undermines the prestige of the state’. The public prosecution remanded him to seven days in detention pending investigation.]

In a new escalation of its crackdown against civil society, Bahraini authorities have now also banned other human rights defenders from leaving the country. The bans were imposed as the activists were attempting to travel to Geneva to participate in the Human Rights Council.

In light of this escalated attack on civil society in Bahrain, the 21 NGOs call for the immediate release of all human rights defenders in Bahrain, including Nabeel Rajab, and for the removal of the imposed travel bans which unfairly restrict activists’ freedom of movement. We also request that the President of the HRC, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association call on the Bahraini authorities to immediately and unconditionally lift the travel ban imposed on Bahrain’s civil society activists and guarantee Bahraini human rights defenders are free from intimidation and restrictions on their work, including at the UN. We also call on the international community to hold the government of Bahrain to its commitments and obligations to foster a safe environment for the peaceful enjoyment of universal human rights.  The government of Bahrain must immediately stop the ongoing reprisals against human rights defenders who are engaging with international mechanisms including the UN system. [21 signatories to be hound at the bottom of this post.]

On 21 June 2016, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stepped in with an expression of great concern over this intensification of a crackdown on free expression and association, and the right to a nationality:

Ravina Shamsadani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: UN Multimedia

This call comes after the 16 June statement issued by a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressing concerns at the situation in Bahrain and noting that such actions by the State authorities could potentially damage the human rights situation in the country as well as undermine the reforms undertaken by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa. Briefing to reporters in Geneva today, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said Bahraini authorities have in recent weeks detained a prominent human rights defender and subjected several others to travel bans, deprived individuals of their nationality, and dissolved three organisations.

Noting recent incidents in the country, Ms. Shamdasani said that yesterday, Sheikh Issa Qassem, the highest Shia authority in Bahrain, was stripped of his citizenship. He is the latest of at least 250 people who have had their nationalities revoked since July 2014, when an amendment to the citizenship law gave powers to the Interior Ministry to revoke the citizenship of an individual who “aids or is involved in the services of a hostile State” or “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.”

Ms. Shamdasani further noted that there appears to be a “media campaign against human rights defenders” in the country and that travel bans have been also issued against other rights defenders, including five who were reportedly planning to attend the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “It is unfortunate that instead of pressing forward with the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed by the King in 2011, the Government has instead sought to undermine the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the country,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “We call on the Government to take immediate confidence-building measures, including the release of all those who have been detained for the exercise of their human rights”.

 

Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng. UN Photo/Manuel Elias
A day later, 22 June 2016, Adama Dieng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, noted that the 20 June action by the Interior Ministry of Bahrain to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Issa Qassem, a Shia religious leader, is the latest in a series of actions by the authorities in recent weeks that have further restricted space for public participation and the enjoyment of human rights in the country. Adama Dieng, also called on the protestors to exercise their rights peacefully and to avoid any act of violence, as well as on all decision-makers, in the country and at the regional level, political parties and groups, military, religious, tribal and community leaders to exercise restraint and to take all possible measures to prevent the further increase of tensions.

On 21 June Front Line reports on the judicial harassment of human rights defender and blogger Ghana Jamsheer whose trial was due to resume on 22 June 2016 before the Bahrain High Criminal Court of Appeal. She is facing several charges including criticism of alleged corruption by the management of King Hamad hospital, run by the ruling family in Bahrain, on social media.[Ghana Jamsheer is the Head of the Women’s Petition Committee, a network of Bahraini women human rights defenders who campaign for the codification of Bahrain’s family laws and their reform. She is a writer and blogger and has been banned from Bahrain national media since 2005. Her online blog Bahrain-eve has been blocked in Bahrain since at least 2009. The human rights defender published a book in 2005, entitled “The Executioner and the Victim in Sharia Courts” issued by the Women’s Petition Committee where she documented cases of women who had been victims of abuse before Sharia courts. [https://frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/ghada-jamsheer] On 26 November 2015, the Bahrain High Court of Appeal upheld the sentence to one year imprisonment, suspended for three years, issued in May 2015 against Ghada Jamsheer, on the charge of allegedly “assaulting a policewoman”, which she denies. Prosecutors alleged the event to have taken place during her time in detention in September 2014. No sufficient evidence that she attacked the policewoman has been presented in support of the claim, and the accusation is refuted by her lawyer. On 14 March 2015, the human rights defender was prevented from leaving Bahrain. She has not received any written notification about the ban.

On 22 June Reuters stated that “Bahrain’s efforts to build national reconciliation after it crushed street protests in 2011 have stalled, and the Western ally in the Gulf has not implemented recommendations to protect freedom of expression, including nonviolent dissent, according to a U.S. State Department report obtained by Reuters.” [The report, which was delayed for months, appears to represent muted criticism of a strategically-located country that hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet as a bulwark against Iran.]

————

The 21 NGOs in the joint statement are:

  1. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
  2. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  3. Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
  4. Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. English PEN
  8. European Centre for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR)
  9. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  10. Front Line Defenders
  11. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  12. IFEX
  13. Index on Censorship
  14. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  15. Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)
  16. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LWRC)
  17. PEN International
  18. Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
  19. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  20. Vivarta
  21. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

For other posts on Bahrain: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/bahrain/

Sources:

https://www.ishr.ch/news/bahrain-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-and-lift-travel-bans-geneva

United Nations News Centre – Bahrain: UN rights office concerned at crackdown on human rights and political opposition groups

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54294#.V2v9AIRptgc

http://en.abna24.com/service/bahrain/archive/2016/06/22/761665/story.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-bahrain-exclusive-idUSKCN0Z8288

see also: http://blogs.cfr.org/abrams/2016/06/18/bahrain-slips-further-into-repression/

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