UN rights office concerned at Bahrain crackdown on human rights and opposition groups

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UNITED NATIONS, June 21 (APP): Concerned at the intensification of a crackdown on free expression and association, and the right to a nationality in Bahrain, the United Nations human rights office Tuesday urged the Government to ensure those rights are protected in line with the countrys obligations under international law and that civil society activists do not face undue pressure, intimidation or reprisals for their work.

The call comes after June 16 statement issued by a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon, expressing concerns at the situation in Bahrain and noting that such actions by the State authorities could potentially damage the human rights situation in the country as well as undermine the reforms undertaken by King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

Briefing to reporters in Geneva on Tuesday, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said Bahraini authorities have in recent weeks detained a prominent human rights defender and subjected several others to travel bans, deprived individuals of their nationality, and dissolved three organisations.

Noting recent incidents in the country, Ms. Shamdasani said that yesterday, Sheikh Issa Qassem, the highest Shia authority in Bahrain, was stripped of his citizenship. He is the latest of at least 250 people who have had their nationalities revoked since July 2014, when an amendment to the citizenship law gave powers to the Interior Ministry to revoke the citizenship of an individual who aids or is involved in the services of a hostile State or causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.

She also said that last week, five Shia clerics were interrogated, and Friday prayers by Shia mosques were suspended until further notice, as mosque leaders said they felt unsafe. This followed the sentencing of Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of al Wefaq, the countrys largest opposition political grouping, to nine years imprisonment on 30 May.

Two other non profit associations were also suspended on claims of illegal fundraising and money laundering.

The spokesperson further said that on 13 June, a prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was arrested for spreading false news and rumours about the internal situation in a bid to discredit Bahrain, adding that prior to his latest arrest, Rajab had been subject to a travel ban since at least January 2015.

Ms. Shamdasani further noted that there appears to be a media campaign against human rights defenders in the country and that travel bans have been also issued against other rights defenders, including five who were reportedly planning to attend the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Protests have also taken place against some of these actions. For instance, since last night, a mass protest has been taking place outside the house of Sheikh Issa Qassem in the northwest port village of Diraz.

The human rights office has called on the protesters to exercise their rights peacefully and refrain from any violent acts.

It is unfortunate that instead of pressing forward with the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was appointed by the King in 2011, the Government has instead sought to undermine the enjoyment of civil and political rights in the country, Ms. Shamdasani said.

We call on the Government to take immediate confidence building measures, including the release of all those who have been detained for the exercise of their human rights, she added.