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Maryam Al Kahwaja traveling in the U.S. in April 2011

Bahrain rights defender and acting President of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, Maryam Al Kahwaja traveling in the U.S. in April 2011. Image: Vice

(WNN) Manama, BAHRAIN, WESTERN ASIA: As Ms. Maryam Al-Khawaja was attempting to return home for a visit to Bahrain from her home in Denmark, the female human rights defender and acting President of the BCHR – Bahrain Center for Human Rights was stopped by a British Airways staff attendant and informed Al-Khawaja that she would not be allowed to board her plane because Bahrain’s government had placed her name on a ‘no-fly’ list.

Al-Khawaja has a long history as a human rights defender in Bahrain.  A Fulbright scholar who attended Brown University in the U.S., Al-Khawaja comes from an engaged human rights activist family with an outspoken pro-democracy father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who is two years into a life sentence as a prisoner of conscience in Bahrain. Maryam’s activist sister, Zainab Alkhawaja, is also serving a prison term.

Helping to provide translation services for journalists who would come into Bahrain in the early 2000s, in 2006 Al-Khawaja also brought a petition to the United Nations to bring attention to the growing corruption and human rights abuses escalating inside the region.

“If you see injustice and you don’t do anything about it then you are an enabler…,” said Al-Khawaja at a recent June 2013 TEDx talk she gave at SOAS, the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London, considered the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. “…Alot of human rights activists and defenders are pushed into becoming human rights activists these days. These governments and these regimes are creating hundreds of new journalists – hundreds of new activists and human rights defenders, and I think it’s beautiful,” she added.

Al-Khawaja was not the only one banned from entering the country recently. London-based male journalist Hyder Abbasi, who works as a correspondent for Al Jazeera news, was also blocked from flying into the region while on a news gathering assignment.

According to human rights agency and watch-dog group, Human Rights Watch, the record for Bahrain on human rights abuse in the past years has shown an increase. The region has been plagued by race discrimination and sectarian violence splitting Bahrain’s Shiaa Muslims apart from the Royal House of Bahrain’s Sunni Muslims.

Denial of press freedom, control of the internet and restrictions on those who have spoken out on what they have described as “unfair policies” by the government has been ongoing. Following the pro-democracy uprising in the region in Mid-May 2011, the government arrested doctors as well as other medical workers who came to the emergency room aid of protesters who were seriously injured during the street rallies. On their arrest witness accounts by the medical professionals were officially made and delivered to the public, including medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, describing torture, humiliation and psychological abuse.

Recent events in mid-July in Bahrain saw the targeting of Shiaas and Shiaa mosques and places of worship by what has been described by the BCHR – Bahrain Center for Human Rights as “arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, midnight house raids, attacking mosques and places of worship, and collective punishment.”

“In an ongoing and escalating campaign of discrimination against Shiaa Muslims, the BCHR has documented 5 cases in the last five days in which Shiaa mosques and places of worship were attacked and vandalized,” outlined the BCHR.

“The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is gravely concerned over the worsening crackdown and massive human rights violations committed by the Bahraini authorities following an alleged terror blast targeting a mosque at a pro-government area. There is particular concern in regards to how the authorities are using the incident to incite and promote sectarian hatred and violence,” continued statements by the BCHR.

With her travel plans Maryam was hoping she would be able to see her father and her sister in prison. She was also hoping to be able to help with a first-hand assessment of the growing need for greater safety measures for all rights defenders within the region.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2012, Bahrain agreed to ”lift all restrictions on movements of foreign journalists and international organizations defending human rights.”  But numerous reporting and relief agencies were not allowed entry into the region including Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights and the FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights.


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