Reports That Travel Ban on Bahraini Activist Maryam Al Khawaja Lifted, Nabeel Rajab Detained
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today welcomed news that leading human rights activist Maryam Al Khawaja will be allowed to leave Bahrain. The organization urges the Bahraini government to drop the politically-motivated charges against her and to end the systematic harassment of other human rights defenders including Bahrain Center for Human Rights President Nabeel Rajab. Rajab, who returned to Bahrain yesterday after speaking at the United Nations in Geneva, was questioned and detained for insulting an official institution on Twitter.
“Reports that Maryam’s travel ban is being lifted is good news, but we are alarmed that the Bahraini government continues to target prominent human rights defenders in an effort to impede their vital work,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The United States needs Bahrain to be a stable ally that respects human rights and the rule of law, not one that reflexively reacts to criticism with repression.”
Rajab was released from prison in Bahrain in May of this year, following the completion of a two year sentence for tweeting information about protests. Since his release, he has continued his work as a human rights activist, advocating at the UN in Geneva and other European cities. In a brief statement released today, the Bahrain authorities confirmed he had been summoned “to interview him regarding Tweets posted on his Twitter account that denigrated government institutions.” These are thought to include a tweet from September 28 from Rajab’s account saying that “many Bahrian men who joined terrosim & ISIS came from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.” If charged and convicted of insulting a government institution, Rajab could face several more years in prison.
Last week a bipartisan group of six U.S. Senators issued a letter urging the Bahraini government to drop the travel ban and charges that have been levied against Al Khawaja. She was arrested as she arrived in Bahrain and was immediately detained under the charge of assaulting police officers at the airport, which she denies. She was released from detention on September 18 and her trial, which opened today, has been adjourned until November 5.
Many peaceful opposition leaders jailed during the 2011 protests remain in prison, and Bahrain continues to jail those peacefully expressing their views including those who criticize the ruling monarchy on Twitter. Leading human rights defenders are harassed or jailed, and independent international human rights organizations, including Human Rights First, are refused entry to the country. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to publicly press the Bahraini regime to release these political prisoners and include them in political talks. Human Rights First also calls on the U.S. government to send an observer to the trials of human rights activists and to state publicly whether proceedings meet international legal standards.