Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine director barred from Bahrain

BDS supporter Omar Shakir turned away en route to FIFA congress, where he was set to urge ban on soccer games in West Bank settlements

Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir (YouTube screenshot)
Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir (YouTube screenshot)

BEIRUT — A Human Rights Watch staffer said Wednesday he was barred from entering Bahrain for the annual FIFA congress in the Gulf state, which restricts access to foreign activists and journalists.

HRW director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, said he spent 18 hours in the airport before being obliged to change his return ticket and board an outbound flight.

Shakir said he traveled to Bahrain to lobby participants at this week’s FIFA congress to ban Israel from holding league soccer games in West Bank settlements.

Shakir, a US citizen, told AFP by telephone that he was hoping to get a visa at the airport, as is customary for holders of American passports.

But he was denied a visa once he declared he was there for the FIFA meeting and that he worked for HRW.

“They told me it was a decision from security services,” Shakir said, pointing out that the initial response was that he was not on the list of attendees provided by world soccer’s governing body FIFA.

Bahrain grants visas at the airport to nationals of many Western countries, but journalists and rights activists have been denied since its crackdown in 2011 on nationwide Shiite-led protests.

FIFA “should have done more with Bahraini authorities” to guarantee access to its meeting, he said.

Shakir made headlines on February 24 when Israeli authorities refused to grant him a work permit, accusing his organization of engaging in Palestinian “propaganda.” That decision was eventually overturned and in April he was granted a one-year work visa.

Before joining Human Rights Watch in 2016, Shakir was a legal fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization that has filed war crimes lawsuits against former Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and former director of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter, a current member of Knesset.

The decision to allow Shakir’s entry raised eyebrows, as he has campaigned against Israel and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

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