1/18/2012

Bahraini authorities attack protesters in capital: opposition

Al-Akhbar
Published Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bahraini security forces attacked hundreds of protesters in the capital Manama on Wednesday, despite opposition claims that they had followed due process to organize the rally.
The rally was organized under the slogan “No to Tyranny, Yes to Democracy,” and comes after weeks of protests against the autocratic rulers of the Gulf state.
Videos and pictures on the internet showed security forces attacking the protesters who gathered in Manama with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, none of which can be independently verified.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) used Twitter to circulate live updates from the rally as the police moved to disperse the protesters.
Mattar Ebahim, a former MP and member of al-Wefaq party, said the protest was organized by the country's opposition parties and that the Interior Ministry was informed of the rally beforehand.
“The organizers of this rally went through the necessary procedures with the Interior Ministry, but the riot police tried to prevent the protesters from reaching Manama,” Ebahim told Al-Akhbar.
“They don't want the opposition to hold any rally or protest in the capital, but they allow pro-regime protesters to hold their rallies anywhere in Manama and the rest of the country without any problems,” he added.
The rally was closed off to prevent more protesters from attending, while riot police attacked the demonstrators already onsite.
“Those who were present came from the early hours of the day or were already in the capital,” Ebahim explained.
President of the BCHR Nabeel Rajab had previously called for demonstrations to move from the villages to the capital.
Opposition groups are trying to heed his call and organize rallies in Manama, but riot police usually break up the protests before they gain momentum.
Rajab encouraged the protesters through Twitter to gather again during the night and continue protesting.
The BCHR also tweeted that riot police are also attacking protesters who have gathered in the villages of Sitra and Abu Saiba.
No injuries have been reported so far, but Ebahim stressed it was difficult to obtain exact numbers of people injured during protests.
“In Bahrain, most injured protesters don't go to any public hospital for treatment out of fear of being arrested, tortured or interrogated. Such things happen often here, so it is difficult to have an exact number of people injured,” he said.
Ebahim also attended a hearing on Wednesday concerning the former MP's trial dating from last year's crackdown on dissent in the country.
Ebahim was one of many opposition activists who were detained and imprisoned during Bahrain's Saudi-backed crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests in February and March 2011.
The former MP was jailed in May, serving three months in prison, where he claims to have been tortured.
Ebahim failed to have his trial suspended at today's hearing, which he says is in violation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI).
“They refused to suspend my trial even after the Bahrain Independent Commission for Inquiry (BICI) report stated that people who are being prosecuted and complained of torture must have their trials cancelled,” he said.
“The BICI listed 60 cases that should be canceled and my case was on that list,” he added.
His next hearing is scheduled for February 2.
Protests have resurfaced in Bahrain demanding democratic reforms in a state where a Sunni royal family rules over a majority Shia population.
Bahrain witnessed mass pro-democracy protests against the royal family of King Hamad Al-Khalifa in February 2011 before authorities, backed by neighboring countries, crushed the uprising, killing at least 35 people.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.
Bahraini human rights groups said in a report last November that "Bahrain committed violations of various international human rights treaties which it has signed and ratified."
The report documented 45 killings, 1500 cases of arbitrary arrest, and 1866 cases of torture, amongst other figures.
The BICI, a government-established commission, found authorities used systematic torture against detainees, but its findings were met with skepticism from opposition groups due to its affiliation with the monarchy.
The commission found that only 35 people had died.
Home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and on Iran's doorstep, Bahrain is a crucial US ally in the region as tensions between Tehran and Washington heat up.