Bahrain: 32 dissidents rounded up within days in clampdown ahead of UN human rights session

Bahrain’s authorities have dramatically escalated their crackdown against perceived critics with 32 people summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecution within the past five days and charges brought against the majority of them, said Amnesty International, less than a week ahead of the country’s UN human rights review session in Geneva on 1 May.
Those summoned include human rights defenders, political activists, lawyers, a journalist and relatives of victims of human rights violations, raising fears that they are being targeted as part of a deliberate attempt to stop them – and deter others – from criticizing Bahrain ahead of and during its upcoming review at the UN Human Rights Council.
“The intensified crackdown against Bahraini dissidents in recent days is highly alarming and exposes the shocking extremes to which Bahrain’s authorities are prepared to go to silence criticism of their human rights record,” said Samah Hadid Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Beirut Office
“The timing, just a week before the examination of the country’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, strongly suggests that this is part of a deliberate attempt to prevent peaceful critics from speaking out about the government’s record in Geneva.”
At least 24 of the 32 people who were summoned were later charged with “illegally gathering” in Duraz, a village west of the capital city Manama, in October 2016 and January and March 2017. Some of them were summoned before the Public Prosecution unit for terrorist crimes. The accused have denied the charges, claiming they were not present in Duraz at the time in question. The majority of them are not Duraz residents and, since 20 June 2016, non-residents have been barred from entering the village by the authorities. These charges appear to relate solely to their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and anyone imprisoned on that basis would be considered to be a prisoner of conscience.
Eight of those charged were told that official travel bans have been imposed on them and four have so far been prevented from leaving the country.
Since June 2016 dozens of human rights defenders and political activists have been barred from travelling abroad and Amnesty International believes that all those summoned and charged over the past week are likely to be stopped from leaving the country.
“The charges against these individuals are baseless and are merely a ploy to punish human rights defenders and other peaceful critics for highlighting the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. The world must not stand by as Bahrain continues with its calculated campaign to persecute human rights activists, political opponents and anyone else who dares to speak out about human rights,” said Samah Hadid.
“The international community and in particular allies of Bahrain, such as the UK and USA, must urge the authorities to ensure that the charges are dropped and travel bans are lifted. Anyone who wishes to participate in Bahrain’s Human Rights Council session must be allowed to travel to Geneva.”
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