Bahrain/UK: human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja prevented from boarding flight at Heathrow

Maryam Al-Khawaja and Agnès Callamard at Heathrow Airport today © Amnesty International

Activist was set to travel to Bahrain to lobby for her jailed father’s release

Heads of Amnesty, Front Line Defenders and ActionAid Denmark also stopped from boarding flight at Heathrow

‘[It’s] a shameless attempt by the Bahraini authorities to stop people from speaking out about human rights violations in the country’ - Agnès Callamard

The Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja has been barred from boarding a British Airways flight to Bahrain for a visit she had publicly announced to pressure the Bahraini authorities to release her detained father, Danish-Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Maryam was being accompanied by a delegation of leading figures from three human rights organisations - Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard; Olive Moore and Andrew Anderson, who are current and former directors of Front Line Defenders; and Timothy Whyte, Secretary General of ActionAid Denmark, all of whom were also denied from checking in for the flight from Heathrow Airport this afternoon.

Responding to the news, Agnès Callamard, said:

“The decision to prevent Maryam Al-Khawaja and the human rights delegation accompanying her from travelling to Bahrain is a shameless attempt by the Bahraini authorities to stop people from speaking out about human rights violations in the country. 

“The move clearly illustrates the authorities’ utter disregard for international human rights standards contrary to what Bahrain’s Crown Prince pretended during a trip to Washington DC just yesterday.

“For 12 long years, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been arbitrarily detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his human rights. In the face of his grave health concerns, the Bahraini authorities have repeatedly denied him the essential healthcare he so desperately needs. 

“He must be immediately and unconditionally released, along with the 11 other Bahraini prisoners of conscience languishing in prison. This travesty of justice must stop.”

Olive Moore, Executive Director of Frontline Defenders said:

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

Tim Whyte, Secretary General of ActionAid Denmark, said:

“Today’s events must galvanise the Danish government and the Bahraini government’s supporters in the global community to take resolute action to protect human rights. No effort must be spared to secure Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s immediate release. The Danish government must use all diplomatic means to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities for Abdulhadi’s return, including by publicly condemning his detention and demanding his release.”

Maryam Al-Khawaja, who holds both Bahraini and Danish nationality, announced her planned trip to Bahrain on social media on 7 September.

Prisoner of conscience jailed for past 12 years

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been a prisoner of conscience since 2011, when the Bahraini authorities detained him for his role in spearheading political protests against the monarchy during “Arab Spring” protests in the country. His arrest was followed by torture, resulting in deteriorating health marked by chronic pain. Over the past two years, he has also suffered from glaucoma and cardiac arrhythmia. Abdulhadi was documented as torture case no. 8 by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, an oversight mechanism established by King Hamad Al-Khalifa following 2011’s mass protests, but has been denied proper medical treatment, with the authorities cancelling his hospital appointments and subjecting him to inhumane transport conditions. 

On 9 August this year, in solidarity with other inmates at Jaw Central Prison, Abdulhadi began a fasting protest, accepting only very small quantities of liquid such as juice or milk no more than once per day. This protest was part of a month-long hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners demanding improved conditions, including greater visitor access and improved medical care. Abdulhadi’s fasting has exacerbated his cardiac condition, leading to two emergency hospitalisations. On 11 September, prisoners at Jaw Central Prison halted their hunger strike in response to an agreement by the prison administration to improve conditions over coming weeks. However, on 13 September Abdulhadi resumed his own fast when the prison cancelled a scheduled appointment with an ophthalmologist.

Earlier this week, the Bahraini authorities cancelled a planned visit by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assess conditions in the country a day before they were due to travel. 

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