Police attack Bahrain protest, leading activist released
Published Friday, January 18, 2013
Several people were injured and others arrested Friday in Bahrain’s capital Manama when riot police attacked anti-government demonstrators with stun grenades, tear gas and pepper spray, activists said.
The protest comes one day after the release of Yousif al-Muhafda, a leading human rights activist arrested last month, pending a trial over charges of disseminating false information through Twitter.
Demonstrators are seen in videos posted online running through a thick cover of tear gas smoke down narrow alleys while chanting for the downfall of the government.
One widely-circulated photo showed a young woman who was injured by security forces while being arrested. She had blood around her face, her headscarf torn off and was doused with pepper spray.
— S.YousifAlmuhafda (@SAIDYOUSIF) January 18, 2013
There were also protests in villages outside Manama.
Friday’s protest was called for by the secular February 14 Youth Movement. It was the first major protest in Manama since December 17 when security forces arrested Muhafda, the deputy-head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
The activist was released late-Thursday on bail after spending one month in a police station. Muhafda told Al-Akhbar that he was kept in a temporary holding cell in a police station with migrant workers, rather than a proper jail, as “punishment” to prevent him from communicating with others.
“I couldn’t talk to them (the migrant workers) because we didn’t speak the same language, so I was practically alone for one month,” he said. “But to be fair, the treatment was good. I had all my rights as a prisoner.”
Bahrain’s authorities have charged him with disseminating false information through Twitter during the December 17 protest after posting a picture of a man suffering from gunshot wounds to the leg.
“I could bring him (the injured man) to court as a witness to say ‘I’m the guy in the photo,’ but I will not do that,” Muhafda said. “Our responsibility as human rights activists is to protect the victims.”
Injured activists are often treated in private homes to avoid arrest at police checkpoints outside hospitals. Doctors who treat injured protesters have also been targeted.
Nine medics were sentenced last year to prison terms ranging from one month to five years after treating wounded demonstrators.
Muhafda has been arrested several times since the kingdom launched a widespread crackdown on activists in the wake of a popular anti-government uprising in February 2011.
He was last arrested on November 2 while taking pictures of demonstrators who had been shot by riot police. He was charged with participating in an “illegal gathering,” but had the case dismissed.
He says a trial over the current charges had been scheduled for January 29, but that he expected it to be postponed.
“I could be acquitted, or I could be sentenced to two-three months in jail,” he said. “You never know, and we have no information.”
The country's top human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was handed a two-year prison sentence last month for organizing demonstrations, drawing widespread condemnation.
Video from Friday’s demonstration in Manama:
Saudi troops entered Bahrain in March 2011 to help crush the revolt against the Khalifa ruling family, but protests still occur almost daily.
Over 80 people have been killed by riot police, or while in custody, since the uprising began.
The small kingdom is home to the US Fifth Fleet.