Bahrain arrests opposition politicians

Two prominent members of the Al Wefaq party held after one of them criticised the government publically.

    The Bahraini government has arrested two prominent politicians belonging to the mainly Shia opposition Al Wefaq party, Al Jazeera has learnt.

    Both Jawad Ferooz, the vice-president of the party, and Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, who recently resigned as a member of parliament, were detained on Monday evening, sources said.

    The arrests came a day after Mattar spoke to Al Jazeera about the threats to opposition politicians, as well as the presence, if any, of a sectarian divide amongst protesters.

    "As an example of the threats ... a brother of a member of parliament had been killed in custody, and also some of the activists in Wefaq, they already started to attack them, and to arrest them. In fact, yes they didn't close Al Wefaq, but Al Wefaq is a vacuum currently," he said.

    "It is difficult for us to move and to communicate with people. [There is] no space any more for political movement, and political activities that we can do. No space for movement and freedom of speech and the basic humanitarian issues, such as medical services."

    Mattar told Al Jazeera that Sunnis and Shias alike had been arrested, which indicated that there was not a strong sectarian divide amongst anti-government protesters.

    A witness told Al Jazeera that Mattar was ambushed in the street by a group of armed, masked men wearing civilian clothes and travelling in civilian cars.

    He was surrounded and forced from his car at gunpoint, then driven away for what family members were told would be "investigation" and "confession", the witness said.

    Sources told the Reuters news agency that Ferooz had been taken away by plainclothes policemen from his house.

    Mattar is considered a moderate critic of the Sunni-led Bahraini government.  He has worked closely with human rights organisations and journalists to uncover the daily violations occurring since the government declared martial law on March 15, and he believed it was likely he would be arrested.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, Joe Stork, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, said his organisation was concerned about the whereabouts of the two politicians, and that their disappearances "fit a pattern" of recent abductions.

    "These latest arrests of the two Al Wefaq parliamentarians fit a pattern of masked men abducting Bahraini citizens who happen to have opinions critical of the government.  They are taken away, their loved ones have no idea where they are or how to get in touch with them, and they have no access to legal counsel.  We know of several cases where people have turned up dead after a week in detention.  We have reason to be concerned about the whereabouts and well-being of Mattar Ibrahim and Jawad Ferooz, and the hundreds of other Bahrainis who have been detained, in some cases for more than a month by the authorities." 

    Bahrain's state television recently aired a documentary in which a now-dead protester claimed Mattar ordered him to kill policemen by running them over with his car.

    The protester who made this claim on camera subsequently died in prison, his corpse bearing signs of torture.

    The Bahraini interior ministry released a statement saying the protester was killed because he "created chaos at the detention centre, prompting the security forces to interfere to bring the situation under control".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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