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Physicians for Human Rights Welcomes Lifting of Travel Ban for Bahraini Human Rights Activist

All Prisoners of Conscience in Bahrain Must be Released and Provided Redress

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today welcomed the decision by a Bahraini court to lift the travel ban on Maryam al-Khawaja, but remained concerned about the spurious charges that remain against her, as well as the continued unlawful detention of numerous other individuals. The court also postponed her trial until November 5.

“Lifting Maryam al-Khawaja’s travel ban is an important, but small, step in Bahrain, where many prisoners of conscience, including her father, remain in prison,” said Andrea Gittleman, PHR’s interim director of U.S. policy. “In the wake of protests demanding greater freedoms, activists and doctors were detained, and while most of the doctors have been released, some activists are still serving long sentences.”

Al-Khawaja, a well-known Bahraini human rights activist and co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, was arrested on August 30 while traveling to visit her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who had been on hunger strike protesting his unlawful detention for the last three and a half years. PHR issued the following recommendations:

  • All prisoners of conscience being held in Bahraini prisons and detention facilities must be immediately and unconditionally released and provided redress;
  • The government of Bahrain must ensure that freedom of expression, including dissent, and other rights are fully respected as required under international law, which includes ending reprisals against and harassment of human rights defenders; and
  • All doctors and medical professions who were targeted by the government should have their licenses restored and be reinstated to the position they held prior to the protests.

According to the U.S. State Department’s most recent report on Bahrain, detention conditions in the country remain far below international standards. Detainees reported regular use of abusive tactics by security officials, as well as being subjected to solitary confinement, sexual harassment, threats of rape, and sleep deprivation.

The travel ban on al-Khawaja and the recent expulsions of human rights investigators, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) exemplify the government’s efforts to silence any criticism of the current regime.

In the past four years, PHR has conducted several human rights investigations in Bahrain, and issued three reports, “Weaponizing Tear Gas,” “Under the Gun: Ongoing Assaults on Bahrain’s Health System,” and “Do No Harm,” which provide evidence of the Bahraini authorities arbitrarily arresting, disappearing, and detaining civilians in a systematic effort to eradicate peaceful dissent. PHR also documented the weaponized use of tear gas by state security agents against peaceful protesters, as well as a targeted campaign to arrest, detain, torture, and sentence doctors who treated protesters.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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