The United Nations Human Rights Office voiced alarm today at the detention of a prominent human rights defender by Bahraini authorities in the Gulf country’s second such incident in less than a month, and urged the Government of Bahrain to ensure the protection of all human rights activists within its borders.
Nabeel Rajab was arrested on Wednesday as he returned to Bahrain following a trip overseas where he discussed the human rights situation in his country with a number of interlocutors, including the UN, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Initially charged with publicly insulting a Government institution on social media, Mr. Rajab has been detained for a week pending investigation.
“We urge Bahraini authorities to immediately release Nabeel Rajab and all other individuals detained for peaceful exercise of their rights,” OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.
“Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals.”
Mr. Rajab’s detention is the latest incident involving the arrest of a prominent human rights defender by Bahraini authorities, coming just one month after activist Maryam al-Khawaja was stopped and charged with assaulting two police officers.
Ms. Al-Khawaja was detained while travelling to Bahrain on her Danish passport to visit her father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 and whose health condition is reportedly deteriorating.
She was subsequently detained at the airport, apparently because her Bahraini passport had expired. She was then transferred to a women’s prison on charges of assaulting a police officer but has since be conditionally released.
“The detention of high-profile human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab and Maryam Al-Khawaja sends a chilling message to other lesser-known activists of the consequences they may face for any criticism of the authorities,” Mr. Colville continued, noting that Mr. Rajab had already expressed apprehension regarding the potential reprisals he expected to face upon his return to Bahrain.
“Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals,” he added.