Maryam al-Khawaja’s Desperate Effort to Visit Her Father, a Bahraini Political Prisoner Denied Medical Treatment

A prominent Bahraini human rights defender, Maryam al-Khawaja, along with the heads of two international rights organizations, faced a heart-wrenching setback when they were prevented from boarding a flight to Manama. Their mission was to secure access to Maryam’s father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of Bahrain’s most renowned political prisoners.

Expressing her frustration, Maryam al-Khawaja revealed, “We were told they were not allowed to board us. Despite my being a Bahraini citizen, I was told I have to speak to Bahraini immigration … effectively we’re being denied boarding by British Airways on behalf of the Bahraini government.” She stood alongside Agnès Callamard, the head of Amnesty International, and Olive Moore, the acting head of Front Line Defenders, in the departure area of Heathrow airport.

In a heartrending video shared on social media, Maryam al-Khawaja tearfully stated, “It’s incredibly disappointing. This may have been my last chance to see my dad.”

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a dedicated human rights advocate, has been incarcerated in Bahrain’s Jau prison for over 12 years. His family is gravely concerned about his deteriorating health, aggravated by the prolonged denial of medical treatment for a heart condition. Furthermore, they claim that he is now at risk of losing his eyesight due to the denial of essential medication.

Maryam al-Khawaja’s journey was a desperate attempt to save her father’s life, even though it carried the risk of her being arrested upon arrival in Manama due to several outstanding convictions in absentia, some of which carry a life sentence. She explained her motivation, saying, “I know that going back means that I might end up spending the rest of my life in prison, but I’m doing this because I feel that I have no other options left … I can no longer sit around and wait for that call that tells me my father has died in prison.”

Bahrain, a Gulf island nation, boasts one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the Middle East, with an estimated 1,200 prisoners of conscience, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird). Many of these individuals, including Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, were detained for their involvement in pro-democracy protests that swept the kingdom in 2011.

Sayed Alwadaei, the advocacy director at Bird, lamented, “This blatant violation of the right to return to your country was a breach that took place in full view of international observers and press. One can only imagine what happens to those behind bars for whom their abuses go unnoticed.”

In response to Maryam al-Khawaja’s and her colleagues’ denied entry into Bahrain as they sought to visit her ailing father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is a prominent political prisoner, Activists Without Borders (AWB) strongly condemns this act. Bahrain has a concerning record of imprisoning individuals for their involvement in pro-democracy movements, with an estimated 1,200 prisoners of conscience, including al-Khawaja, facing dire conditions.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja has resorted to a hunger strike in protest, a measure taken after more than 800 other prisoners in Jau prison temporarily ended their hunger strike. Their demands include access to proper medical treatment. This situation underscores the urgent need for international attention and action to address human rights abuses in Bahrain.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Bahrain’s crown prince recently visited Washington to sign a defense and technology agreement with the US secretary of state, highlighting the geopolitical implications of the situation. AWB calls upon the international community to address these pressing human rights concerns and advocate for the rights of those unjustly detained in Bahrain.