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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended August 06, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 27Jul00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Marine Who Brought Bahraini Princess to US is Mormon

CAMP PENDLETON, CALIFORNIA -- The US Marine who brought a Bahraini princess to the US disguised as a returning Marine is Mormon, according to a report in People magazine. Jason Johnson was assigned to a security force in Manama, Bahrain when he met Meriam Al-Khalifa, then 18, fell in love, and hatched a plan to secret her to the US.

Johnson first ment Meriam in November 1998 in a Manama mall, soon after he was assigned to Bahrain. For fear of attracting attention, the couple courted in glances and whispers, talking by phone and eventually seeing a movie together in May 1999. But when they kissed during the movie, undercover police noticed and reported the relationship to Meriam's mother, who demanded that she break-off the relationship. Instead the two exchanged more than 100 letters over 6 months as Johnson thought up an escape plan and cased the airport's security to make sure that it would work.

On November 2nd, Meriam dressed in American style clothing and slipped out a window to meet Johnson. They managed to get through the airport's seven layers of security using a Marine ID that Johnson had forged for her, and boarded a flight to Chicago. But while they were aloft, Meriam's father discovered her absence and alerted the authorities, leading to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service to meet the couple at the Chicago airport. But the INS was only able to detain Meriam for the night, letting the couple continue on to California the next day.

Now they are fighting to get Meriam the right to remain in the US. Johnson has been court-martialed and reduced in rank for forging the ID, and Meriam's case has been before a US immigration judge since July 17th. But the couple do have some things going for them. They married, at the candlelight chapel in Las Vegas, significantly improving Meriam's chances before the judge. And the case has received some publicity in the US, leading California Senator Barbara Boxer to write the INS urging that Meriam be allowed to stay.

Her attorney, Jan Bejar, is pursuing political asylum for Meriam based on Bahraini customs, which may not treat Meriam well if she is returned. "I did the worst thing I could do: I have married a white man; an American and a Christian. All are forbidden to me," says Meriam. Since she is a minor under Bahraini law until she turns 21, Laurel Fletcher of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley agrees, "She has brought shame on her family. There may very well be retribution." But Middle East expert Richard Dekmejian of the University of Southern California thinks otherwise. "The greatest priority of the Bahrain ruling family is their relationship with the U.S.," he says. "They will not punish [her]."


The great escape
People pg46 31Jul00 P2


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