Female riot police officers surround Zaynab (C), daughter of human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, during an anti-government rally demanding his release in Manama (Photo: AP)
Bahrain has denied entry to a member of the European parliament who the opposition said wanted to check on the situation of jailed hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and other political prisoners.
Ana Gomes, who arrived in Bahrain on Sunday, "was denied an upon-arrival visa and was directed to secure a proper visa through official channels," Bahrain's official news agency BNA reported in an English-language statement.
Gomes, a Portuguese socialist, had "provided information that raised the suspicions of Bahrain airport officials upon her arrival to the country," said the statement released late Monday.
"When the airport officials questioned the information provided, the MP changed her answers which raised further concern," it added.
The main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, "condemned" what it said was an attempt by the Bahraini authorities "to hide the real situations of the Bahraini prisoners of conscience from being circulated to the political campaigners worldwide."
Bahrain's highest appeals court on Monday ordered the retrial of 14 opposition activists, among them Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike since February 8.
The decision was met by criticism from rights groups who have been urging for the immediate release of the dissidents.
"Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the 13 other activists - who are all civilians - should not even be on trial in the first place, let alone tried in a military court" said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's deputy programme director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"They have done nothing but peacefully express their point of view and must be released immediately," Harrison said.
Khawaja, who has become a symbol of Bahrain's opposition movement, was arrested last April shortly after the regime crackdown on a month-long Shiite-led uprising that killed 35 people, according to an independent probe.
Bahrain has repeatedly come under pressure from rights groups as well as Western governments to release Khawaja.