OSLO (Reuters) - A Bahraini blogger and human rights activist said he had been granted asylum in Britain after being in hiding for two years.
A leading voice among protesters during anti-government demonstrations in 2011, Ali Abdulemam hid to escape a government crackdown and was smuggled out by fishermen. A military court tried and sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison.
“I have not seen my daughters since they were six-months-old. It is hard to know that your daughters know you only from a picture,” said Abdulemam, a 35-year-old former engineer with Gulf Air and author of the pro-democracy Bahrain Online blog.
“I feel pain because I am not in my homeland. I did not choose this. I did not want this,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Oslo Freedom Forum rights conference on Monday.
Sources close to Abdulemam said he was smuggled to Saudi Arabia inside a car with a secret compartment. From there, he traveled to Kuwait, where fishermen smuggled him into Iraq, from where he flew to London.
Abdulemam, making his first public appearance since disappearing from view two years ago, said he had been granted asylum in Britain. Britain’s Home Office said it did not comment on individual asylum applications.
A Bahraini government statement released to CNN on Monday said Abdulemam had not been tried in court “for exercising his right to express his opinions”.
“Rather he was tried for inciting and encouraging continuous violent attacks against police officers,” the statement said, adding that his website had been used “to incite hatred, including the spreading of false and inflammatory rumors”.
Abdulemam denies the government’s charges, and says he is campaigning for democracy and civil rights.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family which crushed Shi‘ite-led pro-democracy demonstrations that began in February 2011.
At least 35 people were killed in the unrest, though the opposition says the number is higher. Lower-level unrest has since continued.
The Bahrain government says it has taken steps to address the brutality of security forces early in the uprising by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations to monitor abuses.
Abdulemam declined to discuss how he got out of Bahrain to protect those who helped him. His wife, eight-year-old son and three-year-old twin daughters also still live in Bahrain.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in London; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, William Maclean and Alison Williams