SHAFAQNA- Shia Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja was arrested on Saturday at Bahrain’s international airport when she tried to visit her imprisoned father, fellow Bahraini activists said.
Khawaja was traveling back to Bahrain to visit her father, jailed Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for a week demanding to be released.
Maryam al-Khawaja, the co-director of the Gulf Center For Human Rights (GCHR) which has offices in Copenhagen and Beirut, entered Bahrain with her Danish passport when she was arrested for unspecified reasons, a fellow Bahraini human rights activist said.
“She was denied entry at the airport, and she was asked to wait there for a long time, then told she had to leave Bahrain,” Nedal al-Salman told Al-Akhbar English.
Maryam al-Khawaja has been “stripped of her nationality,” according to her family’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi.
Authorities finally granted Maryam a visa but accused her of “attacking a policewoman” at the airport and decided to hold her in detention “for seven days pending investigation,” he told AFP.
Salman said the Bahraini government’s version of the events was false.
“It’s not true. She refused to give them her mobile phone, and they tried to take it by force,” Salman told Al-Akhbar English.
She added that security forces were nevertheless “very careful” when dealing with Maryam al-Khawaja and had not tortured her, because they knew such information would be shared widely by the activist’s supporters.
Since her arrest on Saturday, Maryam al-Khawaja has declared a water-only hunger strike, in solidarity with her father and in protest of her own incarceration.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was in stable condition, his lawyer said.
“Abdulhadi is continuing with the hunger strike he began on August 25” in Jaw prison near Manama, Jishi said.
The prisoner’s condition was “stable even though he suffered from hypotension two days ago,” said Jishi of the last time he saw his client.
Jailed for life for plotting to overthrow the monarchy, 54-year-old Abdulhadi al-Khawaja staged a 110-day hunger strike in 2012 over his imprisonment.
The state news agency BNA also said Abdulhadi al-Khawaja sent a letter to the prison authorities saying that “he would go on a hunger strike until he is released.”
Hundreds have been arrested and many have faced trials over their role in anti-regime protests that erupted in February 2011.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is among defendants handed lengthy jail sentences for their role in the 2011 protests. Seven of them, including him, have been jailed for life while another seven remain at large.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch describe Abdulhadi al-Khawaja as a “prisoner of conscience.”
This was Maryam al-Khawaja’s first arrest in Bahrain, Salman said, while noting that she had previously been barred from entering the country. Her sister, Zainab al-Khawaja, has been arrested on several occasions by Bahraini authorities.
Salman said Maryam al-Khawaja’s arrest was meant to intimidate opponents of the Bahraini regime.
“I think they are trying to show that if you continue talking, this is what will happen to you,” she said. “Maryam is a very outspoken person about the situation in Bahrain. We all know she came just to see her father, but we’re worried that she might be arrested and detained for a longer time.”
GCHR also condemned her arrest in a statement on Saturday.
“The GCHR condemns both not giving Maryam Al-Khawaja entry to her country Bahrain and also her detention at Bahrain international airport. The GCHR believes that this forms part of an ongoing trend of systematic targeting of human rights defenders by the government of Bahrain,” the statement read.
“The GCHR calls on the US administration, as well as other governments that have influence in Bahrain including the UK government, the EU and leading human rights organizations, to put pressure on the government of Bahrain,” the statement added.
Salman said Maryam al-Khawaja’s supporters were afraid that she could be charged with insulting the king or for her so-called attack on a policewoman.
“International organizations are working really hard, the Danish authorities are working very hard on this case. We are hoping she will be released in the next couple of days,” Salman said.
“It’s not just against the Khawaja family,” she added. “It’s a sign to those who want to speak up about the situation in Bahrain.”
Bahraini security forces crushed the protests in mid-March 2011, but smaller demonstrations frequently take place in villages, triggering clashes with police.
Washington is a long-standing ally of the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty, and Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.