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Leading Bahrain activist released from jail, but still faces travel ban

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MANAMA, Bahrain — Bahraini authorities on Thursday released human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who was being held for questioning after her arrest on arrival in the Gulf Arab country last month.

Al-Khawaja continues to face charges of assaulting police after she refused to hand over her mobile phone during questioning at the airport. She denies the charge. She is banned from traveling abroad while her case moves forward, according to the Interior Ministry.

"I will continue doing what I'm doing for human rights," al-Khawaja told The Associated Press shortly after being released from custody.

Al-Khawaja has dual Danish and Bahraini citizenship. Her father is prominent rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on hunger strike to protest a life sentence he is serving in connection to his role in 2011 anti-government protests.

PHOTO: Human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja flashes the victory sign outside a police station in Muharraq, Bahrain, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Bahrain's Interior Ministry said Thursday that police have released human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who was being held for questioning after her arrest on arrival in the Gulf Arab country last month. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
Human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja flashes the victory sign outside a police station in Muharraq, Bahrain, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Bahrain's Interior Ministry said Thursday that police have released human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who was being held for questioning after her arrest on arrival in the Gulf Arab country last month. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Also Thursday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 14 Bahraini Shiites to life in prison in connection with an explosion that wounded four policemen northwest of the capital in May 2013. Lawyer Zahra Massoud told The Associated Press that the men were found guilty of attempts to kill police and participation in an illegal gathering. The men were between 19 and 25 years old, Massoud said.

Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The tiny island nation has been roiled by more than three years of unrest spearheaded by the country's Shiite majority, who are demanding greater rights from the ruling Sunni monarchy.

The government's handling of the unrest has drawn criticism from international rights groups. A letter Thursday signed by 155 civil society organizations around the world condemned what it called the "politically motivated arrest" of al-Khawaja on Aug. 30.

The U.S. State Department previously expressed concern about al-Khawaja's detention and said it was closely following developments in the case.

Brian Dooley, director of the human rights defenders program at the U.S.-based group Human Rights First, hailed al-Khawaja's release but said "the United States should make clear to the Bahraini government that ongoing judicial harassment and imprisonment of peaceful human rights defenders will undermine the bilateral relationship."

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