Human rights leader arrested at anniversary protests in Bahrain

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Bahraini pro-democracy protesters react to teargas fired by riot police 13 February 2012, on the outskirts of the capital of Manama, Bahrain. (Photo: AP - Hasan Jamali)

Published Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Award winning human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been arrested in Bahrain, activists have said.

It is not clear whether Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been charged with an offense.

A message on the center's official Twitter account said: "BCHR's president @nabeelrajab is being held at AlHoora police station."

Former opposition MP Mattar Mattar confirmed the arrest and said they were news of his condition.

"I know he was arrested but there is no news whether he is released," he said. "One of his colleagues has been released but not Nabeel."

Mattar said it was unclear what charges Rajab was being held under as the Bahraini authorities arrested large numbers of protesters arbitrarily.

"Maybe [he has been charged with] illegal gathering, but they are arresting people and releasing them in hours to stop the protests. But maybe they will put charges on him."

Rajab, who was awarded the 2011 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award for his pro-democracy protests, was attacked with sticks, punched and kicked by security officers while participating in a peaceful demonstration in January.

Elsewhere on Tuesday protesters who gathered to mark the first anniversary of the Bahraini uprisings were attacked with teargas, birdshots, and stun grenades by Bahraini security forces on Tuesday, according to activists.

“In addition to using excessive teargas, security forces are also firing birdshots at protesters. Many people were killed with birdshots in previous rallies,” said Mattar Ebrahim, an opposition figure in Al-Wefaq party said.

“The situation today is reminiscent of when the government declared a state of emergency last March,” he said.

Ebrahim said security fired teargas in several villages and increased their presence in the capital Manama.

Several protesters were also detained after they attempted to gather at the now-sealed Pearl Roundabout - the focal point of last year's uprising.

Fatima Fairooz, a member of Al-Wefaq, was arrested while attempting to reach the roundabout along with 11 other female activists, including a 13 and 15-year old girl, according to an Al-Wefaq statement.

“Tens were arrested after they tried to reach the roundabout even though their actions were not illegal,” Ebrahim said. “They were only exercising their right to gather and protest.”

Amnesty International called on the Bahraini government to release all prisoners detained for participating in peaceful protests and “to bring all those responsible for the gross human rights violations committed during the last year to account.”

“Only when we see prisoners of conscience being released and perpetrators, including those who gave orders, being brought to justice will we be able to judge whether this is more than a Public Relations exercise,” an Amnesty statement said.

The Youth of February 14, Al-Wefaq and other opposition parties called on protesters to march toward the Pearl Roundabout at 3:00pm (local time).

“Despite the arrests, the protesters will not back down and we will attempt to march to the roundabout today,” Ebrahim said.

“The fact that the Bahraini government is preventing us from protesting violates the international accords Bahrain signed and even violates the Bahraini law that guarantees our right to gather and protects freedom of expression,” he added.

Bahrain witnessed mass pro-democracy protests against the royal family of King Hamad Al-Khalifa in February 2011 before authorities, backed by neighboring countries, crushed the uprising.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.

A report from human rights groups last November said that: "Bahrain committed violations of various international human rights treaties which it has signed and ratified."

The report documented 45 killings, 1500 cases of arbitrary arrest, and 1866 cases of torture, amongst other figures, but recent turbulence has seen the death toll rise to more than 60, opposition activists say.

A government-established commission found authorities used systematic torture against detainees, but its findings were met with skepticism from opposition groups due to its affiliation with the monarchy.

Home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and on Iran's doorstep, Bahrain is a crucial US ally in a region as tension between Tehran and Washington heats up.

(Al-Akhbar)

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