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Freedom of movement denied: Bahraini activists banned from travel

A GulfAir Airbus 330 aircraft flies over a parked Emirates Airline's Airbus A380 at the Sakir airbase south of Manama
A GulfAir Airbus 330 aircraft flies over a parked Emirates Airline's Airbus A380 at the Sakir airbase south of Manama

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

This statement was originally published on bahrainrights.org on 18 July 2016.

The list of travel bans imposed on human rights defenders and civil society members has doubled. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has now documented 25 cases of travel bans, 23 of which have been imposed since June 2016. This violates the rights of those individuals to freedom of movement according to Bahrain's own constitution. The list is believed to be longer – however, individuals cannot find out if they're banned from traveling until they attempt to leave the country.


4 July 2016

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its grave concern over the ongoing crackdown on human rights and on fundamental freedoms unfolding in Bahrain. Moreover, BCHR is alarmed over the increase of travel bans imposed on human rights defenders and other members of civil society, a practice used by the government of Bahrain to prevent international exposure of human rights violations.

In the month of June 2016 only, BCHR documented 14 cases of Bahraini human rights defenders and civil society members who were banned from leaving the country, including the case of at least six individuals who were blocked from boarding their flights to Geneva on 12 June 2016 to attend the 32nd Session of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Nor were they permitted to leave the country by land.

The detained human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, BCHR's President, has been on travel ban since November 2014. Before his arrest and detention on 13 June 2016, Rajab was not allowed to leave the country - in a clear attempt to hinder his human right activism. The travel ban also restricted his ability to accompany his wife Sumaya Rajab, who needed medical attention abroad. Currently, Rajab is detained over charges in violation of his right to free expression (read more here: Updates on the arrest and detention of Nabeel Rajab).

Since August 2015, the authorities have been holding the passport of Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman, a well-known interfaith leader and human rights advocate. Al-Salman was selected from over 500 applicants to participate in the 2016 Draper Hills Summer Fellowship Program at Stanford University, which stated the selection was “based on the significant contributions that he has made to build more tolerant societies to counter violence and extremism in the Middle East.” The University called on the authorities to lift the travel ban on him.

On 29 June 2016, journalist and torture survivor Nazeeha Saeed was informed that she was banned from traveling by Bahrain International Airport officials. She further enquired with the relevant authorities, who denied that there was a travel ban imposed on her. However, when she tried leaving the country again through King Fahd Causeway, she was again prevented from traveling. Similarly, human rights defender Ayat Al-Saffar tried to travel through the King Fahd causeway but she was informed that there was a travel ban imposed on her.

On 18 June 2016, the human rights defender and member of Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO) Abdulnabi Al-Ekry was also notified of a travel ban imposed on him, as he was leaving to Paris via Sharja, UAE. Al-Ekri too was not notified of the reasons. His lawyer submitted an official letter to the authorities requesting clarification; however, two weeks later, no response has been provided yet.

On 19 June, the Bahraini authorities prevented Sayed Saeed from joining the Bahraini human rights delegation going to Geneva. Saeed is the father of 15-year-old Sayed Hashimi, reportedly shot and killed by a teargas canister at the hands of Bahraini riot police back in 2011.

Prior to and during the UNHRC 32, Bahraini authorities imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and civil society members who intended to participate in the Council. The list included Hussain Radhi of BCHR, Ebtisam Al-Saegh of Salam for Human Rights and Democracy, unionist and activist Ebrahim Al-Demistani, the parents of the victim of extrajudicial killing Ali Mashaima, and the father of the victim of authorities' use of force Sayed Hashim, in addition to one more activist who preferred to remain unnamed.

On 13 June, Jalila Al-Salman, the vice president of the dissolved Bahrain Teachers Society and member of BHRO, was on her way to participate in the Arthur Svensson Prize ceremony in Oslo, where she was scheduled to receive the prize for her union activism and commitment to human rights issues.

On 8 June, Dr. Taha Al-Derazi, a former political prisoner and activist, was denied permission to travel to the United Kingdom together with his wife, and no information was provided as to the reasons behind the travel ban. Dr. Al-Derazi had participated in the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council back in 2015, and it is believed that the travel interdiction was meant to prevent him from participating in the 32nd UNHRC taking place in Geneva, starting on 13 June.

Freedom of movement is a right preserved by international human rights laws, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of which Bahrain is a signatory. Placing a travel ban on human rights defenders and others is in direct violation to Article 12(1), which states that “everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” The constitution of Bahrain guarantee the same. It states in Article 19 that “No person shall be arrested, detained, imprisoned, searched or compelled to reside in a specified place, nor shall the residence of any person or his liberty to choose his place of residence or his liberty of movement be restricted, except in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the judicial authorities.”

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights therefore calls on the the government of Bahrain to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally lift the ban imposed on human rights defenders and other members of civil society;
  • Guarantee the right to freedom of movement to all; and
  • Provide space to human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work without retaliation or reprisal.

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