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Prisoners inside the state: Bahrain grounds Nedal Al-Salman from traveling to UN

IFEX member Nedal Al-Salman was prevented from leaving the country on 29 August, and informed that the public prosecution issued a travel ban against her in yet another case of the Bahraini government silencing human rights defenders and disrupting the work of civil society through the use of travel bans.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

They wanted to stop my international work. They want to silence me, stop me travelling abroad.

As the global network of organisations defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression, IFEX unequivocally condemns Bahrain's recent travel ban against Nedal Al-Salman, Head of International Relations for IFEX member, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

On the evening of 29 August 2016, while attempting to travel outside Bahrain, a police officer at Bahrain International Airport informed Nedal Al-Salman that the public prosecution had issued a travel ban against her and that she was not permitted to leave the country.

Al-Salman was on her way to participate in the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and to participate in pre-session events at the beginning of September about the current situation for human rights defenders in Bahrain.

We are very concerned that arbitrary travel bans, often imposed without prior legal procedures, are being used systematically to stop advocates from delivering their messages to international bodies of influence, and prevent individuals from exercising their right to freedom of expression. This further isolates Bahraini frontline human rights defenders from the international community and prevents them from sharing critical information with relevant international human rights mechanisms.

In addition, it is troubling that travel bans have increasingly been used as a form of reprisal against human rights defenders and others critical of the authorities in Bahrain. By taking away their freedom of movement, the Bahraini government effectively renders individuals prisoners inside the state, and obstructs the activities of their organisations by silencing them.

As of now, all key figures of BCHR inside Bahrain are banned from leaving the country, including Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR, who has been imprisoned since 13 June for speaking out about human rights violations in Bahrain. Prior to his detention, Nabeel Rajab had also been placed under travel ban since November 2014 for criticizing the government. Referring to Bahraini authorities, Rajab stated in an interview, “It wasn't the tweet that upset them, that was the excuse. They wanted to stop my international work. They want to silence me, stop me travelling abroad”.

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 guarantees the same and 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”.

By restricting freedom of movement through travel bans, the government of Bahrain is directly limiting people's right to freedom of expression and is specifically dismantling the ability of BCHR to carryout their important international work focused on improving the human rights situation in the country.

We therefore call on the government of Bahrain to:

• Immediately and unconditionally lift the travel ban imposed on Nedal Al-Salman and other human rights defenders and members of civil society;
• Guarantee the right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement to all;
• Cease all forms of judicial harassment perpetrated against human rights defenders and members of civil society; and
• Provide space to human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work without retaliation or reprisal.

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