Seven trainee pilots from Bahrain have been suspended from a British flying school after protesting in London against their government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
The students were told by Oxford Aviation Academy (OAA) that lessons were cancelled after the Bahraini authorities ordered them home, where they fear they will be arrested and tortured. They believe the order to return home was a result of their participation in a peaceful demonstration in London against the Bahraini government's violent response to internal protests.
Some of the students were just a matter of weeks away from qualifying as airline pilots and their families had taken out loans of up to £80,000 to put them through training. OAA is thought to have suspended them on the orders of the Gulf Aviation Academy (GAA), in Bahrain. GAA had contracted the British company to train the student pilots and is ultimately controlled by crown prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.
The trainees were emailed by Mahmood al-Balooshi, the chief operations officer at the GAA, last week telling them: "You are requested to attend a compulsory meeting at GAA premises at 10am on Monday 25th April 2011. Failure to attend the meeting will result in the immediate termination of your contract."
One of the students, Hameed al-Bahraini, was reported as saying: "We got the letters from Bahrain after we went to a protest outside the embassy in London to show support for the people who want jobs and freedom in our country. If we go back we are sure we will be arrested. I only have two weeks' training left to go before I am qualified.
"We took risks to come to a new country to train; we just want to live like normal people without fear. We have not broken any terms of our contact with OAA, nor have we broken British law."
Another, who to protect his family gave the pseudonym Jalil, said: "My main worry is that I will be detained at the airport."
While fearing arrest and torture for themselves they were also concerned about the implications for their families who have taken out loans to pay the training fees and which they would be unlikely to be able to repay without a pilot's income.
Several Bahraini students studying at university in Britain have also been ordered to return home by their government, which has stopped their scholarships, after joining a pro-democracy protest held in Manchester.