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Bahrain: Human rights defenders remain jailed and banned from travel as civil society crackdown continues

In this May 14, 2015 file photo, Bahraini anti-government protesters hold up images of jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a solidarity protest outside his home in Bani Jamra, Bahrain.
In this May 14, 2015 file photo, Bahraini anti-government protesters hold up images of jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a solidarity protest outside his home in Bani Jamra, Bahrain.

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File

This statement was originally posted on on 23 June 2016.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is alarmed at the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and free expression, which continued in Bahrain this week as additional prison sentences and travel bans were imposed. Women's rights activist and blogger Ghada Jamsheer received a one-year prison sentence on appeal, as leading human rights defender and GCHR Founding Director Nabeel Rajab's detention was extended and human rights defender and writer Abdulnabi Al-Ekry was banned from travel.

On 22 June, Ghada Jamsheer, a writer, blogger and journalist who is President of the Women's Petition Committee (WPC), was sentenced on appeal to one year in prison by the Second High Criminal Court for four cases related to her tweets about corruption at King Hamad hospital.

Jamsheer has 12 cases against her related to this case and has already been sentenced to seven months in prison on three other related charges, in addition to one year in prison (suspended) for allegedly “assaulting a police officer” while in custody. She was also fined 10,000 dinars (approx. USD$26,500) for alleged defamation of the management of the hospital, headed by a member of the ruling family. Jamsheer was first arrested on 15 September 2014, and jailed for three months. She is now at risk of arrest at any time.

On 21 June, the Public Prosecution extended the detention of Nabeel Rajab, who is also President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, a further eight days although he is not scheduled for further interrogation. The reported reason for his arrest on 13 June was for "spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain," which BCHR reports is related to statements he gave during TV interviews in early 2015 and 2016.

Rajab is being held in hot and dirty conditions at East Riffa Police Station, where he is kept apart from other prisoners in solitary confinement, and is suffering from gallstones and skin infections, for which the authorities have refused him treatment. He had been seen by doctor at the Bahrain Defense Hospital earlier on 21 June, who confirmed his need to a surgical intervention to remove the stones. The GCHR believes that all this in addition to the ill-treatment in prison, is an attempt by the government of Bahrain to psychologically target Nabeel Rajab and break him down.

On 18 June 2016, human rights defender and writer Abdulnabi Al-Ekry was banned from traveling to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates from Bahrain International Airport. Al-Ekry is the former President of Bahrain Transparency Society and a member if the Bahrain Observatory for Human Rights and has a long history of working for human rights in Bahrain. He joins a long list of civil society members banned from travel recently, including eight people who were prevented from attending the UN Human Rights Council's 32nd session last week.

We welcome the attention from the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, who said, “In a further intensification of their crackdown on dissent, 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, including the country's largest opposition group.”

The UNHCHR's office said, “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. We urge the Government to ensure that civil society activists do not face undue pressure, intimidation or reprisals for their work or for their cooperation with UN human rights bodies. 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.”

The GCHR expresses its concern about the ongoing targeting of human rights defenders in Bahrain and calls on the UN human rights mechanisms and all governments that have influence in Bahrain to continue to hold accountable the government of Bahrain and ask for them to:

1. Release Nabeel Rajab, and drop any possible fabricated charges against him that are related to his freedom of expression;

2. Provide immediate medical attention and proper care to Nabeel Rajab, and investigate allegations of poor conditions and ill-treatment of Nabeel Rajab in Riffa Police station prison;

3. Overturn the sentences against Ghada Jamsheer and keep her free from prison;

4. Allow human rights defenders to travel freely in the pursuit of their work, particularly when they are engaging with the UN system, and drop travel bans against them; and

5. Release all human rights defenders immediately and ensure their protection from any harassment, torture, and persecution in relation to their peaceful human rights activities.

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