In an unprecedented case of access denial, human rights defender Maryam AlKhawaja was today prevented from boarding a British Airways flight from Denmark to Bahrain, following a request to the airline by the Bahrain government.
AlKhawaja is the Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Co-Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR). Since 2011, she has been living in self-imposed exile in Denmark “due to the necessity of being abroad for her work and for safety and security reasons”. AlKhawaja successfully visited Bahrain for a fortnight in January. On August 5th, she announced her plans to return to Bahrain to monitor the human rights situation in advance of the planned protests on August 14th. AlKhawaja holds dual Bahraini-Danish citizenship and was intending to travel on her Danish passport as her Bahraini passport has expired.
This morning, AlKhawaja was scheduled to board a British Airways flight from Copenhagan to Bahrain, however she was prevented from boarding. She told IB Times:
I had the flight this morning from Copenhagen and everything was fine. I did the online check-in yesterday. I was blocked at the boarding and told to check with the counter because there was a problem. The lady called the office in London who told her that there was a denied boarding message as a decision from Bahrain government.
If British Airways has agreed to a ban, they have to give you a reason for that. The lady at the counter, instead, said it was not mentioned in the system and she did not know.
I’ve put in a request and they’re going to get back to me. I told them to move as fast as possible because if I don’t receive a response I’ll be consulting a lawyer on the possibility of going to court.
A British Airways spokesperson gave the following justification to IB Times: “Like all airlines, we are required to comply with requests from individual government authorities.”
In a joint statement, BCHR and GCHR describe the move as “very worrying”. They also highlight the fact that the Bahrain government is a signatory to General Comment No. 27: Freedom of movement (Art.12) on the The International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights, which states:
21. In no case may a person be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his or her own country. The reference to the concept of arbitrariness in this context is intended to emphasize that it applies to all State action, legislative, administrative and judicial; it guarantees that even interference provided for by law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances. The Committee considers that there are few, if any, circumstances in which deprivation of the right to enter one’s own country could be reasonable. A State party must not, by stripping a person of nationality or by expelling an individual to a third country, arbitrarily prevent this person from returning to his or her own country.
At the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012, Bahrain agreed to “lift all restrictions on movements of foreign journalists and international organizations defending human rights” (UPR 115.156). However, as Bahrain Watch has documented in our project Access Denied, the Bahrain government has failed to uphold this commitment. Since September 2012, members from NGOs Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) have all been denied access. Journalists have also faced similar problems, despite the Bahrain government agreeing at the UN to a second recommendation specifically to “allow foreign media to enter the country and report freely” (UPR 115.148).
On August 8th at around 4am Bahrain time, Al Jazeera English journalist Hyder Abbasi tweeted that he had tried to travel to Bahrain for Eid, but was refused entry because he worked for the media:
Bahrain Watch has also heard reports that a second journalist was denied entry to Bahrain this week. We are currently ascertaining the details and will update this post as new information emerges.
Given the crackdown currently underway in Bahrain, it is vital that outside observers are given access to the country to document events on the ground. This is especially true as local citizen journalists are being arrested and detained, including media fixer and blogger Mohammed Hassan, and photojournalists Hussain Hubail, Qassim Zainaldeen and Ahmed Al-Fardan. Hassan, Hubail and Zainaldeen remain behind bars. On August 7th, Hassan told his lawyer AbdulAziz Mosa that he had been tortured. His lawyer later tweeted this information and added that he had observed signs of torture on him. Several hours later, Mosa was arrested on charges of publishing his clients name. Al-Fardan, who recently won first-prize in a photography competition organised by Freedom House, was detained on August 8th and held for several hours. He reports that he was beaten and threatened before being released. He added: “There is a massive campaign against journalists.”