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Bahraini police have detained a prominent activist after a raid on his home as part of a wide crackdown on dissent more than five years after the Arab spring.

It was not immediately clear why authorities detained Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. His detention comes after Zainab al-Khawaja, another prominent activist, fled for Denmark in recent days due to fears of being imprisoned again.

Police seized electronic devices and other items from Rajab’s home, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Rajab’s wife, Sumayia, confirmed his arrest. The raid was not immediately reported by the state-run Bahrain news agency, and officials with Bahraini police and the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Rajab helped lead protests during Bahrain’s 2011 demonstrations as the country’s majority Shia population and others demanded more political freedoms from its Sunni rulers. Bahrain crushed the protests with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, the country has faced low-level unrest, protests and attacks on police, and Rajab has been detained by the authorities several times.

In 2015, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa pardoned Rajab over health concerns following his imprisonment for three months on charges related to comments he made online criticising the treatment of political prisoners.

Rajab at the time also faced a six-month sentence for insulting the defence and interior ministries on Twitter when he alleged that Bahrain’s security institutions were incubators for extremist ideology, after several former members of the country’s security service apparently joined Islamic State.

Other prominent opposition figures and human rights activists remain imprisoned, and others have been stripped of their citizenship and deported.

In a speech on Monday, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said at least 250 people had lost their citizenship in Bahrain in recent years “because of their alleged disloyalty to the interests of the kingdom”.

He said: “Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances, it will increase them.”

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid Al Khalifa, responded on Twitter: “We will not allow the undermining of our security and stability and will not waste our time listening to the words of a high commissioner who is powerless.”

Rajab’s detention appeared timed to coincide with the UN meeting on human rights at which Hussein spoke, said Brian Dooley, the director of the Washington-based group Human Rights First. He said other activists had been prevented from leaving Bahrain to attend the conference in Geneva.

“Nabeel’s arrest is a forceful, frightening message from the Bahraini government that it’s moving against even activists with strong international connections,” Dooley said.