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Press briefing notes on Bahrain and Destruction of places of religious significance by ISIL

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 3 October 2014

(1) Bahrain

We are alarmed at the detention of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain on Wednesday after his return from an overseas trip during which he discussed the human rights situation in Bahrain with various interlocutors, including the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva.

Rajab has been accused of publicly insulting a Government institution on social media and detained until Thursday next week pending investigation. Rajab had just been released in May, after serving out a two-year sentence for ‘unauthorised gathering’ and ‘offending an official institution’ Rajab’s detention comes a month after another prominent human rights defender, Maryam Al-Khawaja was arrested and charged with assaulting two police officers. She was conditionally released on 1 October and a travel ban against her was lifted. Her trial date has been set for 5 November.

The detention of high-profile human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab and Maryam Al-Khawaja sends a chilling message to other lesser-known activists of the consequences they may face for any criticism of the authorities. Rajab had expressed to UN human rights staff his fears that upon his return to his country, he may face reprisals for his advocacy for human rights in Bahrain. This is a very disturbing development.

We urge Bahraini authorities to immediately release Nabeel Rajab and all other individuals detained for peaceful exercise of their rights. Human rights defenders in Bahrain must be able to carry out their work without fear of reprisals.

(2) Destruction of places of religious significance by ISIL

It has been brought to our attention that an important Armenian church was destroyed by ISIL in Deir Al-Zor in Syria in mid-September. We condemn the destruction of the church and of other religious institutions. As you are aware from yesterday’s report on Iraq, this is a pattern with ISIL, which has been blowing up mosques and shrines and damaging churches in northern Iraq.

Turning back to this issue in Syria, the conduct of both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups continues to cause the destruction of religious, heritage and archaeological sites. Anti-Government armed groups’ attacks on religious personnel and buildings including churches in Syria have also increased this year. Government forces continue to place military objectives around cultural sites and turn them into military bases. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented specific incidents of this sort in its reports.

We are also concerned that the whereabouts of the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi, abducted in Aleppo in April 2013, and of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, abducted in Ar Raqqah city in January, remain unknown.

We stress that religious personnel and buildings dedicated to religion enjoy specific protection under international humanitarian law and must be respected and protected by all parties.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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