Police detain Bahrain activist, her 1-year-old son

AP News
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Posted: Mar 14, 2016 12:51 PM
Police detain Bahrain activist, her 1-year-old son

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini police detained a political activist and her year-old son on Monday in an operation that came on the fifth anniversary of Saudi and Emirati soldiers putting down Arab Spring-inspired protests in the tiny island kingdom.

The detention of Zainab al-Khawaja, a daughter of a prominent activist serving a life sentence over the 2011 Shiite-led protests, came shortly after Bahraini authorities acknowledged Monday they deported Lebanese citizens over their alleged ties to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

The developments show the continued concerns by Bahrain's Sunni rulers over the ongoing, low-level unrest still gripping the Shiite-majority island off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It also comes as the 22-member Arab League of nations last week declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization amid a widening dispute between Saudi Arabia and Shiite power Iran.

Officers carrying video cameras first raided her in-laws' home before coming to al-Khawaja's Manama apartment, taking her and her son Abdulhadi away to a local police station, said her sister, fellow activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who lives in exile in Denmark. The mother of both Maryam and Zainab al-Khawaja, Khadija al-Musawi, corroborated her account, as did Zainab al-Khawaja's husband.

Bahraini officials did not immediately comment on the detentions. However, it comes as Zainab al-Khawaja faces some three years in prison over a variety of charges, including several involving her tearing up pictures of Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Maryam al-Khawaja later said officers had a warrant and that her sister likely would be taken to prison to begin serving her sentences.

The two women's father is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a leading rights activist who is serving a life sentence in connection to his role in the 2011 anti-government protests.

The protests were put down on March 14, 2011, when Saudi and Emirati troops came over the King Fahd Causeway and entered the capital.

Five years later on Monday, hundreds of Bahraini youths protested in areas outside of Manama, with some clashes seeing demonstrators throw gasoline bombs and police firing tear gas. Such protests remain common to this day in Bahrain, which is also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Bahrain blamed regional Shiite power Iran for stirring up the 2011 demonstrations, though a government-sponsored investigation into the unrest said there wasn't a "discernable link" between the protests and the Islamic Republic based on the information the government gave them.

That anti-Iran fervor has grown after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric and protesters in the Islamic Republic responded by attacking two of the kingdom's diplomatic missions in the country. Bahrain is also part of a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting Shiite rebels there who have been backed by Iran.

Earlier Monday, Bahrain's Interior Ministry announced it had deported "several Lebanese residents" over their alleged support or involvement with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which Iran backs.

"Those who possess images, slogans or symbols in sympathy with terrorist groups or provide support through investment or commercial activities will also be dealt with through the law," the ministry said in a statement.

Lebanese media has said at least seven Lebanese families were deported from Bahrain in recent days.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .