Are Travel Bans a Hidden Way to Suppress Bahrain Human Right Defenders?

Governments all over the world have always deployed various means to supress voices that raise awareness against their regime. Besides former measures of extrajudicial executions & arbitrary arrests, travel bans have become the new way to shut dissent. Likewise, many Bahrain Human Right Defenders remain stuck under travel bans even after ten years of the Arab Spring Uprising in 2011.

As the country’s human rights crisis is worsening each day, it is crucial to note how it is using travel bans as an effective measure to curtail the freedom of expression of not just Bahrain’s human right defenders but their families too.

Speaking about country’s attitude towards rights activist, the President of Bahrain Center for Human Rights — Nedal Al-Salman says that most human rights defenders are afraid to report their cases due to fear of forced exile. She added, “Men can be watched more closely than women, women can face harsher reprisals, such as sexual harassment, threats, defamation… Living in a country that is conservative and where families care about reputation, it may be harder on them [women]”.

Clearly, the government is propagating gender differentiation even while levying punishments. Unlike Al-Salman’s bold voice, many Bahraini female voices refrain from coming out in open lest they would have more trouble.

Considering the gravity of Bahrain human right record, the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on the country’s human rights issue on 11 March 2021. However, the issue still requires more attention from global human rights authorities.

Recently, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, IFEX and various other rights groups urged F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali to act upon Bahrain’s plan to sportswash its image. Following this, British racing driver Lewis Hamilton highlighted that the country’s human rights abuses shall not go ignored after an 11-year-old Ahmed Ramadhan asked Hamilton for help in his father’s death penalty case. Acknowledging his unawareness about the issues, Hamilton said, “Coming here all these years, I was not aware of all of the details of the human rights issues. I have spent time speaking to legal human rights experts… to human rights organizations like Amnesty”.

Previous travel bans on Bahrain human right defenders reflect upon how state authorities restricted activists’ movement before and during international Human Rights Council sessions. Nedal Al-Salman was herself refrained from travelling outside Bahrain multiple times.

In July 2008, Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments had started an online portal to help people check travel bans before planning international trips. Yet, this service has proved to be unworthy of reliance as Nedal Al-Salman was refrained from travelling despite the service’s green light.

Even today, there are many rights activist who are not raising their voice against Bahrain’s travel ban rules only because of fear of extended punishments. This vicious circle of imposing unjust rulings will continue until the world decides to join hands and act upon such serious matters. But the question really is — When Will That Happen!!

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