June 14, 2017 / 12:38 PM / 2 months ago

U.N.'s Zeid warns Gulf states to respect rights in Qatar row

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein attends the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland June 6, 2017.Denis Balibouse/Files

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain appear to be violating people's human rights by threatening to jail or fine them for expressing sympathy for Qatar, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and imposed stringent economic sanctions on it, accusing the country of supporting terrorism. Doha denies their accusations that it supports Islamist militants and Shi'ite Iran.

The four states, which have branded dozens of people and entities with alleged links to Qatar as terrorists, must respect citizens' rights, Zeid said.

"It is becoming clear that the measures being adopted are overly broad in scope and implementation, and have the potential to seriously disrupt the lives of thousands of women, children and men, simply because they belong to one of the nationalities involved in the dispute," Zeid said in a statement.

He said directives issued by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to address the humanitarian needs of families with joint nationalities appeared to be inadequate, and his office had received reports of specific individuals being ordered to return home or to leave the country they are residing in.

"Among those likely to be badly affected are couples in mixed marriages, and their children; people with jobs or businesses based in States other than that of their nationality; and students studying in another country," he said.

"I am also extremely troubled to hear that the UAE and Bahrain are threatening to jail and fine people who express sympathy for Qatar or opposition to their own governments’ actions, as this would appear to be a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression or opinion."

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ken Ferris

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