Bahraini forces arrest opposition activists

Local group says birdshot and tear gas used by security forces to disrupt attempt via social media to stage protest.

Bahrain protests
The protesters say they want the Sunni ruling family to allow more democracy in the Shia-majority state [AP]

At least 13 people have been arrested by Bahrain’s government forces, who have used birdshot and tear gas in areas where anti-government activists were demonstrating, according to a local group.

The protests on Wednesday were organised by a group calling itself Tamarod, meaning rebellion, using social media.

Tamarod said its demand was that the Al-Khalifa ruling family allow more democracy in the Shia-majority state of 1.25 million.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), a Manama-based organisation which monitors the Sunni-led government’s rights record, said “large amounts of tear gas [were] used to disperse anyone gathering on the streets”.

Maryam al-Khawaja, BCHR’s acting president, told Al Jazeera excessive use of tear gas had been seen in all areas where the protesters had gathered.

“At least three protests were attacked by government forces using tear gas, and it has been very difficult for protesters to move from their villages onto the main streets because of the barbed wires that were set up last night,” she said referring to a pre-emptive crackdown before the planned protests.

The organisers had issued a call to protesters on social media to gather near Seef, a district in Manama which was to be turned as the focus point of the protests.

However, the government forces intercepted the protesters and cordoned off the area using barbed wire.

It has been very difficult for protesters to move from their villages onto the main streets because of the barbed wires

by Maryam al-Khawaja, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights

Khawaja said that at least five people, women included, were arrested on Wednesday evening on their way to Seef.

The al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, a mainly Shia opposition political party, released a statement on Wednesday saying that internet connection had been cut off in some areas in Bahrain.

“Personal devices of some citizens have also been selectively cut off,” it said.

Radhi al-Mousawi, spokesman for the secular-leftist Waad party, told Al Jazeera that Viva, one of four major telecommunication network providers, had blocked the usage of popular instant messaging platforms such as Whatsapp.

He estimated that at least 60 protests were held across the country. He said tear gas was used in Aali, a suburb north of Manama.

“There is very little movement in most of the areas surrounding Manama and all shops are closed, but there are more than 60 demonstrations in different villages,” he said.

The Wa’ad party, which is not participating in the Tamarod protests, maintains that it is the right of the people to protest as long as they are done through peaceful means.

The party hopes that government forces will deal with protesters in a “civilised way” and decries the harsh methods used on Wednesday, Mousawi said.

The Ministry of Interior blames “terrorism” for instances of violence and imposed new laws this month allowing tougher penalties.

During the protests in March 2011 at the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout in the Manama where protesters then congregated, communication networks were cut off, limiting contact outside of Bahrain.

BHCR claimed on its website that a large number of foreign mercenaries were aiding government troops, indiscrimately firing tear gas and pepper spray.

Mousawi, however, said it would be difficult to confirm if the troops were foreign.

“The soldiers and police who stop you at checkpoints, are all Bahraini – so it is difficult to tell [about mercenaries] because they are wearing masks,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera