Middle East News
Clashes erupt after two opposition figures are held in Bahrain
Feb 2, 2007, 15:50 GMT
Manama - Clashes involving security forces and Shiite villagers erupted in several Bahraini villages Friday after authorities detained two key opposition figures who have been outspoken critics of the government over the past several years.
The arrest of the two, along with a third unidentiified activist, prompted the largest bloc in parliament to call for an immediate session of both houses of the National Assembly.
'The arrests come as a real threat to the credibility of the reforms process,' said a statement for the Islamic Shiite Al Wefaq Society which has 17 of the 40 seats in parliament.
Haq Movement Secretary-General Hassan Mushaima and Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) President, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, were arrested at their homes at around the same time early Friday.
The homes of Mushaima and Al-Khawaja 'were besieged by special forces before (they were) apprehended by armed forces backed by masked security personnel,' a Haq statement said.
Head of Al Wefaq Society Sheikh Ali Salman criticized the arrests during his Friday prayers sermon, and hit out at the authorities over use of force.
Salman also warned that 'certain powers' in the government and its security forces were pushing toward sectarian tension.
Mushaima, 58, and al-Khawaja, 46, appeared under heavy guard before the public prosecutor in the afternoon.
The Ministry of Interior confirmed three people had been arrested for their activities during the Shiite celebrations of Muharam earlier in the week, which the ministry said encouraged a change of the government system in illegal ways.
Both Mushaima and al-Khawaja had been arrested in the past for lengthy periods because of their political activities. The two organizations have been addressing issues sensitive to authorities.
The latest issue is claims on secret websites made by Dr Salah Al- Bander - Secretary General-Gulf Centre for the Development of Democracy - which allege stirring up of sectarian sedition between Sunnis and Shiites, infiltration of civic institutions, and changing of sectarian demography in Bahrain.
The Bahraini government does not view Haq and the BCHR as legitimate groups. Authorities dissolved the BCHR in 2004 while Haq, which broke away from the main Shiite opposition grouping Al Wefaq in 2005, never registered under the societies' law.
The two groups, which have been calling for constitutional and governmental reforms, continue to operate in the Gulf island and have been involved in highlighting claims made by a report prepared by the Gulf Centre for the Development of Democracy.
The report - known as Bandargate - alleges that government officials have been involved in espionage and promoting sectarian tension to weaken the Shiite opposition.
Hundreds of the two leaders supporters gathered in front of Mushaima house in Jidhafs, on the outskirts of Manama, after Friday prayers. They then marched chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the release of the two who had been detained.
Anti-riot police tried to stop the march as it entered the main road, with the clashes quickly spilling into neighbouring Shiite villages.
The arrests come two days after a Bahraini court jailed Haq activists dentist Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahlawi, 35, for a year and Hussain AbdulAziz Al Hebshi, 32, for six months for attempting to distribute anti-government leaflets calling for a boycott of last Decembers elections.
The court decision sparked riots in the Shiite village of Sehla on Thursday night, and prompted local and international criticism.
'The imprisonment of two Bahrainis for trying to express nonviolent political opinions violates freedoms guaranteed under Bahrain's international obligations and the kingdom's own constitution,' said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur