Bahrain has informed a Danish MP that he will not be granted entry into the country because his passport contains a stamp from Israel.
MP Søren Espersen (Dansk Folkeparti) was planning to travel to Bahrain in November with parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee but was told he would be barred unless he secured a second passport without an Israeli stamp.
The incident provoked a strongly worded press release from Espersen in which he condemned Bahrain’s policy.
“I think it’s about time that someone stood up to these embarrassing Arabic countries that toy with diplomats, politicians and businessmen that have ‘dared’ to visit Israel simply to indulge their perverse hatred of Israel,” Espersen said.
Espersen is vice-chairman of parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee, which the government consults before making major foreign policy decisions.
Espersen attacked Bahrain’s policy as farcical, especially given that the Bahraini authorities know full well that many MPs would be making the trip with a second passport free of Israeli stamps.
“We are constantly having to dance around and accommodate these absurd Islamic states that, despite accepting our economic support, still make the unreasonable demands that we should arrive with ‘clean’ passports,” Espersen said.
Despite being offered a second passport by the Foreign Ministry, Espersen has decided not to participate in the trip.
Espersen was quickly criticised for being hypocritical given that Israel performs an identical policy and bars entry to visitors with stamps from countries such as Iran and Lebanon.
Fathi Il-Abed, chairman of the Danish-Palestinian Friendship Society, argued that Espersen knew full well what the circumstances for travel were like in the Middle East.
“Recently I met a vice president from the German company Siemens. He had held a presentation about his company in Iran. He then wanted to go to Israel on a business trip but was rejected after a five-hour wait,” Il-Abed told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
Il-Abed also explained how Danish-Palestinians were routinely barred entry to Israel for having Lebanese stamps in their passports.
Espersen doesn't shy away from courting controversy, especially concerning whether Denmark should support foreign-born Danes who get into trouble abroad, such as the human rights activist, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.
Al-Khawaja took on Danish citizenship after being granted political asylum in Denmark in 1991, where he had fled after facing persecution for his work as a political dissident in Bahrain.
This year, as his health deteriorated during his 110-day hunger strike, Danish politicians attempted to lobby the Bahraini authorities for his release.
Espersen, however, argued that Al-Khawaja could actually be a Shia Islamist that describes himself as a human rights activist as a cover for his actual goal of implementing an Islamic caliphate in Bahrain.
“He says he wants democracy but there are plenty of Islamists that have said that through the ages,” Espersen said. “I have a feeling it is merely a fight for power between Shia and Sunni Muslims.”
The human rights violations by the Bahraini government, supported by the Sunni royal family, are well documented, and include arbitrary arrests and torture. The violent crackdown by security forces, aided by Saudi Arabia, were well documented as protests associated with the Arab Spring spread to Bahrain in 2011.
Not everyone believes al-Khawaja and his organisation, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), has an ulterior motive, however.
The Stieg Larsson Foundation recently announced that Maryam Al-Khawaja, the activist's daughter, will receive this year’s Stieg Larsson Prize for her work promoting human rights and democracy in the Middle East.
Maryam Al-Khawaja is the international liaison for the BCHR, which her father established in 2002.
This story was updated on 17/10/2012. The word 'identical' was replaced with 'similar' in the lead-in. While it is correct that Israel does not bar admittance simply based on passport stamps in the way Bahrain does, anecdotal evidence suggests the presence of stamps from certain countries can affect the likelihood of being allowed entry.