Bahrain police arrest rights activist

Zainab al-Khawaja handcuffed and dragged, as security forces clash with protesters attempting to disrupt highway.

Zaynab al-Khawaja arrest in Bahrain
Zainab al-Khawaja is the daughter of jailed human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja [Reuters]

Police in Bahrain have arrested human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, as security forces clashed with protesters attempting to march along a highway leading to Manama, the Gulf kingdom’s capital.

A source at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights told Al Jazeera that she would be detained for seven days.

Al-Khawaja, daughter of a prominent opposition leader, and several other women were holding a sit-in in Budaiya roundabout on Thursday.

Photographs and video footage circulated by activists showed a female police officer handcuffing and dragging al-Khawaja.

Tear gas and stun grenades were also used to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters near the town of Diraz and other opposition stronghold villages west of the capital.

Riot police were seen chasing protesters away from entrances to the key highway and back into the largely Shia Muslim communities that line the road.

In a statement, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) called for action to “guarantee her release and protection from further physical violence.”

Another woman, Masooma al-Sayed, was arrested at another sit-in next to a mall on the same Manama highway, the BCHR, said.

‘Illegal’ assemblies

The interior ministry said two women were arrested after refusing to end their “illegal” assemblies.

It said the protester arrested near the mall, presumably Sayed, had “attacked one of the policewomen”.

The two were referred to the public prosecutor in the presence of their lawyer, said the statement.

A female officer “took my (Muslim head) scarf off and tied it around my mouth to stop me from speaking,” Khawaja was quoted telling her lawyer Zahra Masood, in the rights group’s statement.

The mother of a one-year-old child and whose husband Wafi al-Majed is in prison along with her father, Khawaja, is known on Twitter social network as “Angry Arabiya”.

The clashes follow 10 months of unrest between Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy and an opposition movement led by the country’s majority Shia.

Online activists had issued calls on Twitter and other social media platforms for marchers to occupy the highway, seeking to maintain momentum for protests.

Hundreds of marchers, some waving red and white Bahraini flags, were seen along the side of the highway when the clashes broke out in the afternoon.

Witnesses described a heavy police presence in the area ahead of the protest, with security forces dressed in riot gear and helicopters hovering low overhead.

The highway leads to a junction that is roughly half a kilometre south of Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, which was the focal point of the uprising until government forces evicted protesters and tore down the sculpture that marked the site in March.

The now heavily guarded square holds great symbolic value for the opposition movement, and protesters have repeatedly tried to retake it.

More than 35 people have died in clashes and protest-related violence since February, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies