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Bahrain activist al-Khawaja says airline denied her boarding to Manama

FILE PHOTO: Human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja flashes a "V" sign after being released outside the Airport Police Station, in Muharraq

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

RIYADH (Reuters) - A daughter of prominent Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja said on Friday she was denied boarding a flight in London as she tried to return to the Gulf state and press for her father's release from prison.

Maryam al-Khawaja said she was told at a British Airways' counter at Heathrow Airport that she was not allowed to board her flight and should contact Bahraini immigration authorities.

"Effectively we are being denied boarding by British Airways on behalf of the Bahraini government," she said in a video taken in British Airways' check-in area, and posted on X, formerly called Twitter.

The Bahraini government said it welcomes all visitors, provided they meet the necessary entry requirements. "However, as with other countries, Bahrain reserves the right to refuse entry, if deemed necessary," the government said in a statement sent to Reuters.

British Airways did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Maryam said she would travel to Bahrain and risk her arrest because her father was denied access to urgent and critical medical treatment, part of the reason why he is on a hunger strike.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, also a Danish citizen, is a former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and is serving a life sentence for his role in Bahrain's pro-democracy protests in 2011.

A group of activists, who said they would join her, including Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard and Front Line Defenders' Olive Moore, were also denied boarding, she said.

'MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE'

Asked whether there were any charges against Maryam Al-Khawaja, the Bahraini government said she was convicted after she assaulted two policewomen in 2014 and she "never served or appealed her one year sentence".

"In Bahrain, as with any government with an independent judiciary, individuals who are convicted in a court of law are subject to legal proceedings and due process," a government spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja resumed his hunger strike after authorities did not allow him to get to a scheduled medical appointment, his second daughter, Zainab, told Reuters.

His decision followed an announcement by rights groups that hundreds of other political prisoners had suspended hunger strikes as the government promised to improve prison conditions.

Mary Lawlor, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said the deteriorating health of Bahraini prisoners Abduljalil al-Singace, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Naji Fateel was "extremely" concerning.

"Medical negligence and lack of adequate care has left them in a worrying state," Lawlor said in a statement.

On Wednesday the government denied Khawaja was on hunger strike, adding he has "repeatedly and voluntarily declined to attend his regular medical appointments".

"Abdulhadi al-Khawaja's health is stable with no serious concerns," it said.

The Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa dynasty has kept a lid on dissent since Riyadh sent troops to help it crush an Arab Spring uprising in 2011 by the mostly Shi'ite opposition. Bahrain accuses Shi'ite Iran of fomenting unrest, charges Teheran denies.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, additional reporting by Muvija M and Emma Farge; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Potter)