A daughter of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist went on hunger strike on Tuesday to protest the arrest of several family members _ including her father and her husband _ for their connection to anti-government protests.
Zainab al-Khawaja told The Associated Press that she will refuse food until her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is released, along with her husband, brother-in-law and uncle.
The 27-year-old mother of a baby girl first announced her hunger strike in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama that she posted on her blog on Monday.
The uncle was arrested in a different police sweep while the other three men were taken into custody in a raid on Zainab's house in a Shiite village outside the capital Manama on Saturday. Zainab said her father was beaten unconscious before he was taken away by armed masked men
"My father's only crime is that he has documented human rights abuses in Bahrain," Zainab al-Khawaja told the AP in a phone interview. "I demand he and all men of my family are released."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was aware of the case and was calling on Bahraini authorities to "allow these individuals to freely express themselves and uphold their universal rights."
Authorities in Bahrain have cracked down heavily on dissent since martial law was declared last month to quell protests by the country's Shiite majority against the Sunni royal family that has ruled the tiny Gulf island nation for more than 200 years.
The Shiites are agitating for greater political freedoms and equal rights.
Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the main American counterweight to Iran's efforts to expand its military influence into the Gulf.
The United States has urged the monarchy to respect human rights but says little about allegations of repression against Bahrain's Shiites.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 50, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of Frontline Defenders rights organization. He also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
At least 29 people have been killed since the protests began on Feb. 14, including three opposition supporters who died in custody. Hundreds of Shiite activists, anti-government protesters and opposition leaders have been detained in the crackdown.
None of those in custody have been publicly charged with a crime or brought to trial.
On Monday, authorities said three former top editors of Bahrain's main opposition newspaper will face trial for "unethical" coverage of the political unrest in the Gulf kingdom.
Bahrain's official news agency said the top editors of Al Wasat newspaper have been charged with "publishing fabricated news," "harming public safety" and "damaging national interests."
No date has been set for the beginning of the trial.
Bahrain's Interior Ministry said in a statement late Monday that 86 prisoners were released. The statement did not say if anti-government protesters and opposition supporters were among them.
Associated Press Bradley Klapper contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.