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DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain refused entry on Wednesday to a Danish lawmaker and an Irish human rights campaigner who were intending to visit a prominent Bahraini-Danish activist in jail, a Bahraini human rights group said.
A government spokeswoman said Lars Aslan Rasmussen and Brian Dooley were refused entry because they had not followed Bahrain's visa procedures.
Rasmussen, an MP for Denmark's Social Democrats and Dooley, were due to visit Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who played a leading role in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011 that were put down by the authorities. He is serving a life sentence after being convicted on charges of terrorism and attempting to overthrow the government.
During the regional Arab Spring uprisings, Sunni-Muslim ruled Bahrain, a Western ally and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, was rocked by mass protests led by its Shi'ite majority which has long complained of discrimination.
Since his imprisonment, the Danish government has made several calls on Bahrain to release Khawaja or to let him be extradited.
A government spokesperson said: "Two individuals were denied entry to Bahrain this morning having failed to follow the country's clearly defined visa and immigration procedure."
"Furthermore, those individuals are likely to have arrived in the full knowledge that their entry would be denied as a result of not following these procedures."
Dooley works as an advisor for the Gulf Center for Human Rights, which Khawaja co-founded prior to his arrest with Nabeel Rajab, another leading activist jailed by the authorities.
“We came to show that Al Khawaja and the other human rights activists in prison are not forgotten, and to remind the Danish government that it should be pressing much harder for his release," Rasmussen said, according to a BIRD statement.
Bahrain is about to host its annual Formula One race, watched by millions around the world. The race has been held since 2004 with the exception of 2011 when the uprising forced its cancellation.
"Preventing members of parliament, human rights groups and journalists from entering the country shows how much the regime has to hide," Dooley said in the statement.
"Formula One fans planning to arrive this week should know what they’re getting into."
(Reporting By Sami Aboudi; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)