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15 September 2023

Bahrain: Maryam Al-Khawaja prevented from boarding flight for visit to demand father’s release

Joint Press Release:

Maryam Al-Khawaja has been barred from boarding a British Airways flight to Bahrain for a visit that she had publicly announced to pressure the Bahraini authorities to release her detained father, Danish-Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, and ActionAid Denmark announced today.

She was being accompanied by a delegation of leading figures from three human rights organizations; 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 checking in for the flight.

Responding to the news Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnés 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.”

Olive Moore, Executive Director of Front Line 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.”

Agnés Callamard added: “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.”

Tim Whyte, Secretary General of ActionAid Denmark, said: “Today’s events must galvanize 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 Bahraini authorities for Abdulhadi’s return, including by publicly condemning his detention and demanding his release.”


Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been a prisoner of conscience since 2011, when Bahrain detained him for his role in spearheading political protests against the monarchy during the Arab Spring. His arrest was accompanied by torture, resulting in deteriorating health marked by chronic pain. Over the past two years, he has also suffered from glaucoma and cardiac arrhythmia.

He was documented as torture case no. 8 by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, an oversight mechanism established by King Hamad Al-Khalifa following mass protests in 2011, but has been denied proper medical treatment, with authorities cancelling his hospital appointments and subjecting him to inhumane transport conditions.

In solidarity with other inmates at Jaw Central Prison, Abdulhadi began a fasting protest on 9 August 2023, 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 such as greater visitor access and adequate medical care. His fasting has exacerbated his cardiac condition, leading to two emergency hospitalizations.

On 11 September 2023, the prisoners halted the mass hunger strike in response to agreement by the prison administration to improve conditions over coming weeks, but on 13 September 2023 Abdulhadi resumed his own fast when the prison cancelled an appointment he had scheduled with an ophthalmologist.

Maryam Al-Khawaja, who holds both Bahraini and Danish nationality, announced her planned trip to Bahrain on social media on 7 September. The Bahraini authorities cancelled a planned visit this week by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assess conditions in the country a day before they were due to arrive. 

In solidarity with her trip, she was joined by members of three human rights organizations: 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.