[QODLink]
Middle East

Bahrain braces for anti-government protests

Police set razor wire and checkpoints outside Shia villages ahead of planned demonstrations.

Last Modified: 13 Aug 2013 20:20
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Police have used razor wire to block off the entrances to some villages, activists said [AP]

Security forces in Bahrain have begun a pre-emptive crackdown ahead of nationwide anti-government protests scheduled for Wednesday.

The protests are being organised by a group calling itself "Tamarod," or "rebellion," mimicking the Egyptian movement of the same name, which organised protests that led to the military overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi last month.

The group has urged businesses to join them in a general strike, and plans to rally in Manama despite a recently-issued ban on protests in the capital and harsh new penalties aimed at curbing dissent.

Police on Tuesday set up checkpoints around Shia villages outside the capital which have been a main source of opposition to the government.

Sunnis are a minority of the population in Bahrain, but they have controlled the government for decades, and protests have largely been led by Shia activists alleging discrimination and economic inequality.

Al-Wefaq, the main opposition party in Bahrain, said that Sitra island south of Manama had been "surrounded... with roadblocks."

Villages have been "caged in with barbed wire," said Maryam al-Khawaja from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

'Draconian new measures'

Wednesday marks the anniversary of Bahrain's independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. It also marks two-and-a-half years since the start of the current unrest in Bahrain, which began with a month-long sit-in at Manama's Pearl Roundabout.

Security forces crushed that protest in March 2011, with the backing of other Gulf countries.

These draconian new measures are disgraceful. National security must not be used as an excuse to sanction the repression of peaceful protests.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International

Demonstrations have been largely confined to the villages since then, and Wednesday's rally will be the first attempt in months to stage a demonstration in Manama.

As the opposition prepared to mobilise protesters, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a decree last week which bans almost all "demonstrations, marches, assemblies and sit-ins" in the capital.

Earlier this month, he decreed tougher penalties for "terrorism," a term the government sometimes applies to all forms of political dissent.

Parents could be jailed if their children participate in protests, and authorities can revoke Bahraini citizenship from anyone who "commits or incites an act of terrorism."

"The government will forcefully confront the suspicious calls to violate law and order and those who stand behind them," Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa said in remarks carried by state media.

There have been scattered acts of violence across the island in recent weeks. A car bomb went off earlier this month in Budaiya, west of the capital, and another one last month exploded near a mosque in Riffa, a largely pro-government town.

But anti-government protesters have largely refrained from violence, and rights groups condemned the new penalties as an effort to ban acts of peaceful protest.

“For years the authorities in Bahrain have shamelessly sought to stifle freedom of expression," said Philip Luther, the Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.

"These draconian new measures are disgraceful. National security must not be used as an excuse to sanction the repression of peaceful protests."

Hundreds arrested

Authorities have also preemptively rounded up hundreds of activists over the past month. One of the most recent was Mohammad Sanad al-Makina, a banker, who was arrested at the airport earlier this month and charged with "inciting hatred against the regime."

Amnesty International called him a prisoner of conscience

The detainees also include at least five bloggers and photographers, according to Reporters Without Borders.

One of them, Mohammed Hassan, was seized from his home in the early hours of July 31 by dozens of masked policemen. His lawyer was subsequently arrested after saying that Hassan appeared to have been tortured.

Bahrain also last week deported an American teacher for her alleged links to "radical groups," including Hezbollah, the Lebanese political party and militia.

Authorities routinely accuse the opposition of having links to Iran and Hezbollah, but have provided no evidence to back up their claims.

At least 80 people have been killed since the unrest began in Bahrain, according to rights activists, and thousands more injured and arrested.

701

Source:
Al Jazeera
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
Since independence, Zimbabwe has faced food shortages, hyperinflation - and several political crises.
After a sit-in protest at Poland's parliament, lawmakers are set to raise government aid to carers of disabled youth.
A vocal minority in Ukraine's east wants to join Russia, and Kiev has so far been unable to put down the separatists.
Iran's government has shifted its take on 'brain drain' but is the change enough to reverse the flow?
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
join our mailing list