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Bahrain: British Airways 'denied boarding' to activist flying home to Manama

Maryam al-Khawaja was trying to fly home to raise awareness of the condition of her imprisoned father and other political prisoners
Bahrain human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja following her release from detention on 18 September 2014 (AFP)

Bahrani activist Maryam al-Khawaja said on Friday she was denied boarding on a flight to Bahrain by British Airways as she tried to return home to raise awareness of the condition of her imprisoned father.

In a video message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Khawaja said she was not allowed to board a flight at London's Heathrow Airport "despite being a Bahraini citizen".

"I was told I have to speak to Bahraini immigration if I want to get a boarding pass to Bahrain. So effectively we are being denied boarding by British Airways on behalf of the Bahraini government," she said.

Her travel to Manama was planned as an attempt to raise awareness of her father's imprisonment, alongside 800 other political prisoners who recently were on hunger strike for over a month.

Khawaja, who was travelling alongside a group of activists and campaigners, said she was disappointed as this would have “been my last chance to see my dad”. 

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Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, was among those accompanying Khawaja and said on X that she had also been denied boarding.

“Our human rights delegation members are all denied a boarding pass. We are told that British Airways has been instructed by the Bahrain immigration authorities not to give us a boarding pass,” she posted.

A spokesperson for the British Airways Press Office responded to Middle East Eye's request for comment on the refusal to let Khawaja board.

"All airlines are legally obliged to comply with immigration control laws and entry requirements for customers as set by individual countries," he told Middle East Eye in a statement. 

A government spokesperson in Bahrain added: "The Kingdom of Bahrain welcomes all visitors, provided they meet the necessary entry requirements.

"However, as with other countries, Bahrain reserves the right to refuse entry, if deemed necessary."

'Rights denied'

Sayed Alwadaei, a Bahraini activist, and the director of advocacy at the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), raised concern over al-Khawaja being denied boarding the flight.

“If a Bahraini citizen gets their rights denied at Heathrow airport, in London, in front of international observers and in front of heads of international rights organisations, then imagine what happens to prisoners behind bars, what is happening to Maryam’s father and other political prisoners who are suffering torture and systematic medical denial and slow death without anyone monitoring,” he told MEE.

“Since this is happening in London, this will be shameful if the British government does nothing. Especially as British Airways followed the Bahraini government with no questions - there has to be clear accountability over how such things are permitted," he added.

Campaigners and the heads of human rights organisations informed MEE that they are planning to peacefully protest outside the Bahraini embassy in London later today in response to not being allowed to travel to Bahrain. 

Responding to the news, Olive Moore, the Executive Director of Frontline Defenders said that the decision not to let her board the flight was "unjustifiable".

“Maryam Al-Khawaja placed her own freedom on the line to champion the cause of her ailing father and other human rights defenders, only to be met once again with the Bahraini authorities’ contempt for human rights and the rule of law," he said in a statement. 

Their refusal to grant Maryam the basic right to freedom of movement, including the right to return to her own country, is completely unjustifiable," he added.

Earlier this month, al-Khawaya said that she decided to travel because she was worried that she would hear of her father's death in prison. 

“This is my last-resort attempt at saving his life, and I also want to raise attention on the over 800 people on hunger strike in Bahrain right now."

Khawaja’s decision to go back to Bahrain could have serious consequences.

She risks a potential life sentence, she said.

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