Skip to main content

Human Rights Watch Calls on Bahrain to End Harassment of Dissident Lawyer, Allow Him to Travel Abroad for Medical Treatment

In a letter sent today to the Amir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Human Rights Watch urges the government to revoke its ban preventing Ahmad Isa al-Shamlan from traveling abroad for medical treatment.

Government officials recently warned Mr. Shamlan, a leading defense lawyer and critic of the government, to cease his efforts to present a petition to the Amir, reportedly signed by more than 20,000 Bahrainis, requesting restoration of Bahrain's partially elected National Assembly. When Mr. Shamlan declined, he was told he could not leave on a planned visit to France for medical and other purposes, and he subsequently suffered a serious stroke. In the letter, Human Rights Watch calls on Shaikh Isa to instruct the ministry of interior "to cease its harassment of Mr. Shamlan for attempting to exercise his rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to peaceful assembly and association"

A copy of the letter is attached.
August 15, 1997
Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Office of His Highness the Amir
Rifa'a Palace

by facsimile: 973 668 884

Your Highness:

We are writing you with regard to Mr. Ahmad Isa al-Shamlan, who was recently informed by a high official in your government that, because of his views critical of the government, he is presently not permitted to travel outside of the country. Mr. Shamlan has not been charged with any offense which might justify this restriction. Such abridgement of Mr. Shamlan's right to freedom of movement on grounds of his political opinion contravenes Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Bahrain has pledged to uphold. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration states that all persons are entitled to this and other specified rights "without distinction of any kind," including "political or other opinion."

We therefore respectfully urge your government to assure Mr. Shamlan that there will be no restriction on his right to travel abroad if he so wishes. We further ask that you instruct the government, and in particular the ministry of interior, to cease its harassment of Mr. Shamlan for attempting to exercise his rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to peaceful assembly and association.

Mr. Shamlan, a defense lawyer and columnist, has long been active in the campaign to restore the partially elected National Assembly mandated by Bahrain's Constitution. He and his family had been scheduled to fly from Manama shortly after midnight on July 31 to France for medical examinations and a vacation. On July 30, at around noon, Mr. Shamlan received a telephone call from Abd al-Aziz Atiyatallah Al Khalifa, governor of Manama province. Governor Atiyatallah told Shamlan that he would not be allowed to leave the country. Mr. Shamlan urged his wife to travel without him, but several hours later he suffered a serious stroke and was hospitalized. We understand that he has recently been released from the hospital and is presently recovering at home.

Prior to this phone call, on the previous evening, July 29, Mr. Shamlan and Mr. Ibrahim Kamal Eddin, a businessman, had been summoned by Governor Atiyatallah to the Hura police station in Manama for a meeting that lasted until after midnight. At this meeting, Governor Atiyatallah, a long-time high official in the ministry of interior prior to his appointment as governor this year, warned the two men that they should cease their recent efforts to arrange a meeting with Your Highness to present a petition, reportedly signed by more than 20,000 citizens, requesting you to reinstate the National Assembly and implement other political reforms. When the two men indicated that they intended to continue their political reform efforts, Governor Atiyatallah reportedly told Mr. Shamlan to "think of your health." When Mr. Shamlan asked if this was a threat to prevent him from travelling, the governor responded that it was not. The next day, however, the governor phoned Mr. Shamlan to say that in fact he would be prevented from leaving.

Mr. Shamlan, who is in his mid-fifties, has been detained many times for his non-violent political opposition to the government. Most recently, on February 7, 1996, he was arrested following the publication by Agence France-Presse of a statement of the Popular Petition Committee, in which he is a leading figure. He had been scheduled to speak a few days later at a public seminar entitled "Democracy and Shura" sponsored by the Uruba Club, a gathering which the government then prohibited from taking place. Mr. Shamlan was brought before the State Security Court on charges emanating from a newspaper column he had written a year earlier and from his possession of the statement of the Popular Petition Committee. The court acquitted Mr. Shamlan of all charges in May 1996, but he told Human Rights Watch subsequently that because of continuing government harassment he did not feel free to express his views concerning the political crisis in Bahrain.

When Mr. Shamlan and his colleagues renewed their efforts in early July of this year to arrange a meeting with Your Highness, he received a phone call from Abd al-Latif al-Rumaihi, the head of the prime minister's office, insisting that they abandon this effort. The July 29 summons from Governor Atiyatallah followed.

Even prior to this recent stroke, Mr. Shamlan's health was poor. He had undergone heart surgery within the previous twelve months. We understand that the Bahrain Bar Association has recently written the minister of justice requesting that Mr. Shamlan be allowed to leave the country for medical treatment as soon as his current health permits.

While we would similarly urge you to permit him to travel on humanitarian grounds, we wish to stress that, so far as we are aware, the government of Bahrain has no legitimate grounds on which to restrict Mr. Shamlan's right to freedom of movement, including the right to travel abroad and to return to Bahrain. If your government is not prepared to allow Mr. Shamlan to travel at this time, we would appreciate receiving an explanation for this measure.

We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter, and look forward to your response.


Kenneth Roth

Executive Director

cc: Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, Prime Minister

Shaikh Muhammad Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Interior

Shaikh Abdallah bin Khalid Al Khalifa, Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Ambassador of Bahrain to the United States

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.