As a Member of the European Parliament, I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the human rights situation in Bahrain, and particularly the case of human rights defender Nedal Al Salman, Head of International Relations and Women and Children Advocacy at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).
On 26 November 2017, Nedal Al Salman was prevented from boarding a flight to Toronto via Dubai at Bahrain International Airport. She was stopped at the immigration desk and told by a policeman that she wasn’t allowed to travel as Bahraini authorities had imposed a travel ban on her. This travel ban will prevent Ms. Nedal Al Salman from attending the European Union (EU)-NGO Forum on Human Rights on December 5 and 6, 2017 in Brussels, where she had been invited by the EU.
This is not the first time that Ms Al Salman has been targeted for her human rights activities. On 29 August 2016, she was about to travel to Geneva to participate at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, when she learned by officials at Bahrain International Airport that the Public Prosecution had ordered a travel ban against her and that she could not therefore leave the country. She was not formally notified of this order nor of its reasons. On 15 November 2016, she was interrogated on charges of “illegal assembly”, after being summoned by the Public Prosecution office. She has been subsequently released.
Since then, Ms Al Salman has been regularly facing travel bans, notably before attending the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March and June 2017. Furthermore, on 26 April – ahead of Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review - and 19 September, she was summoned before the Public Prosecution office and charged under the new anti-terrorism law for illegally gathering in Duraz village on 27 and 28 January 2017, and placed on a travel ban, which has apparently not been lifted.
I note with concern that these actions are part of a larger campaign of repression in the country against political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors engaging with the UN Human Rights Council or any other UN mechanism or international body. In particular, travel bans have been extensively used as a tool to systematically censor and suppress dissident voices in Bahrain and to prevent human rights defenders from speaking out about human rights violations and abuses in the country. According to Amnesty international, between June 2016 and June 2017, at least 169 peaceful critics or their relatives were subjected to measures such as travel bans, summons, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, imprisonment, and threat of imprisonment or torture for speaking out against the authorities.
Since June 2017 more than 25 human rights defenders and members of civil society have been banned from travel.
The international community condemned the aforementioned actions on several occasions. On 7 July 2016, the Resolution of the European Parliament on Bahrain expressed grave concern about the ongoing campaign of repression carried out by Bahraini authorities against dissident voices in the country as well as the restriction of fundamental democratic rights, notably freedom of expression, association and assembly. All Members of the European Parliament specifically called for “an end to all acts of violence, harassment and intimidation, including at judicial level, and to the censorship of human rights defenders, political opponents, peaceful protesters and civil society actors by state authorities and the security forces and services”.
On 25 November 2016, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed deep concern over the travel bans imposed on Bahraini human rights defenders, including Nedal Al Salman, “in an act of reprisal for their cooperation with the United Nations, and their human rights work through the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and of association”.
Similarly, In light of the above, I call upon His Majesty and the Bahrain authorities to:
Abide by its obligations under international law, having particular regard to human rights and on 20 September 2017, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour raised serious concern over the increased attacks on human rights defenders in Bahrain. The report highlights that, “since June 2016 members of Bahraini civil society attempting to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms have been interrogated, intimidated, subjected to travel bans, and even arrested or detained, causing an atmosphere of fear”, citing, among others, the case of Nedal Al Salman.
Halt all measures, such as travel bans, preventing representatives of the Bahraini civil society from travelling to engage with international institutions such as the European Union or the United Nations, in particular the UN Human Rights Council;
Release and drop the charges against individuals prosecuted for their work and for exercising the rights to free expression, association, and assembly; basic freedoms. Yours sincerely,
Julie Ward, Member of the European Parliament