Bahrain: Harassment of leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab at Heathrow Airport
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) express their concern over the harassment and ill-treatment of leading human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and his family at the hands of the authorities at Heathrow Airport.
On 24 July 2014, Nabeel Rajab, president of BCHR and director of GCHR, arrived with his wife and two children (12 and 16 years old) at Heathrow International Airport from Bahrain on a personal visit to see friends and undergo medical checkups in the UK. To their surprise, they were held for approximately five hours at a temporary detention center at the airport as they were waiting for the immigration authorities to process their entry papers. Their luggage was thoroughly searched and their fingerprints and photos were taken. They felt that they were treated “like criminals”. Rajab was allowed one phone call only and had to be escorted by a policeman when going to the rest room. Additionally, he was interrogated about his sentence and imprisonment in Bahrain, which was the apparent reason for this treatment. Later, they were informed that they would be allowed to enter the country; however, their passports were held for investigation and they were told that they will be notified in two weeks (by August 7, 2014) whether they will be allowed to stay in the UK for three weeks as they had planned. Rajab’s visa was issued via the UK embassy in Bahrain a few days before his trip and no issues were brought to his attention at that time.
Rajab was imprisoned in Bahrain for two years between July 2012 and May 2014 for exercising his right to freedom of assembly by participating in and calling for peaceful protests, in the Capital Manama, in defense of people’s rights in Bahrain.
He was considered a prisoner of conscience by several human rights bodies including the UK based Amnesty International, and his detention was considered arbitrary by the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
In June 2014, the UK embassy in Bahrain held his passport for over 16 days after he submitted it to apply for a UK visa, despite the fact that the normal visa procedure does not take more than 5 days. The embassy also delayed handing back the passport after he asked for it even if without a visa. Eventually he was handed back the passport with a visa that was issued then canceled. As a result of this delay, the embassy effectively managed to hinder the human rights defender’s planned activities to travel to the UN human rights council (HRC) 26th session in Geneva, as a meeting organized between Rajab and the OHCHR was cancelled after initial postponement, and his participation in several planned events on the side of the UN HRC, which were announced publicly were also cancelled, due to the fact that he was not able to travel while his passport was held at the embassy.
In stark contrast to the treatment received by the human rights defender Nabil Rajab, Nasser Bin Hamad, son of the king of Bahrain, received a royal reception from the British government, despite the torture charges against him in court of law when he visited the kingdom in May 2014.
Since his release, Rajab has been vocal in criticizing the position of the UK government towards the Bahraini people’s struggle for rights and democracy which he has described as “the worst in the world”. He compared it to its position towards the popular struggle in South Africa against racial discrimination policies. The UK government calls for democracy and human rights in some countries while it turns a blind eye to the violations and abuses in its ally Bahrain, and continues to target Bahrain for arms deals despite ongoing reports of brutal attacks on protesters. Earlier this month, BCHR and GCHR have joined 29 organizations in sending a letter to the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, urging a shift in UK policy towards the situation in Bahrain.
The BCHR and GCHR believe that the leading human rights defender and his family have received this unacceptable treatment and harassment merely because of his work in the field of Human Rights, and hold the UK authorities responsible for this violation of his freedom of movement. It is extremely unacceptable that Rajab continues to be harassed and treated as a criminal by Bahrain’s ally on top of his unfair imprisonment due to the criminalization of freedom of expression and assembly in Bahrain.
The BCHR and GCHR call on British government to change its interest-driven policy towards Bahrain and stand up for the principle of protecting human rights worldwide without discrimination.
The BCHR and GCHR demand that the British government to:
- Stop harassing Bahraini human rights defenders and activists,
- Cease any further harassments or restrictions to Rajab’s freedom of movement.
- Ensure that all human rights defenders in Bahrain and all countries are able to conduct their human rights work without fear of reprisals.
The BCHR and GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) which states that: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.