Imprisoned activist's daughter detained in Bahrain

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2011 11:57 AM
Imprisoned activist's daughter detained in Bahrain

A daughter of a prominent Bahraini activist was detained during an anti-government demonstration in the Gulf kingdom, which has been roiled by months of protests and crackdowns.

Zainab al-Khawaja, a 28-year-old blogger and activist, was arrested late Thursday during a rally outside the capital, Manama, said Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The government confirmed her arrest in a statement Friday.

She is a daughter of Bahrain's most prominent political activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was imprisoned for life along with seven other opposition leaders in June. A special security tribunal, set up under emergency rule, convicted them of anti-state crimes.

A video purportedly of her arrest shows a female officer handcuffing al-Khawaja as she sits in the middle of a traffic circle. Another female officer appears to punch her in the face before both officers drag her by her handcuffs to a police vehicle. It was impossible to verify the veracity of the video, which was posted online, but the scene matched a description given by the government.

The rally, which began on Thursday near the opposition stronghold of Diraz and other Shiite villages west of the capital, was marked with clashes as Bahraini security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest alongside a highway leading to Manama.

On Friday, clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters occurred on the same highway after police fired tear gas at a funeral procession for a protester who opposition supporters say died during Thursday's rally. Witnesses said the protester was run over by a police car.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry denied police were responsible for the man's death. In a statement late Thursday, the ministry said a pedestrian it identified as 22-year-old Ali Ahmed Radhi was fatally injured in a traffic accident that involved a civilian vehicle. Its driver is in custody, the statement said.

The clashes took place during a visit by the U.S. State Department's top human rights envoy, who expressed concern about Bahrain's use of tear gas and other tactics against the Shiite protesters. Bahrain's majority Shiites have been campaigning for greater rights from the Sunni monarchy since February.

In a statement on al-Khawaja's arrest, Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority said she was taken into custody for her "role in a larger illegal gathering in a busy roundabout on one of the main roads outside Manama."

The statement said female police officers were sent to the roundabout to clear it of protesters and make the arrest.

"In the process of getting her into the police vehicle, al-Khawaja resisted arrest by laying down and female officers had to physically remove her from the site," the statement said, adding that police have referred the blogger's case to the public prosecutor.

Along with her father, al-Khawaja's three other male relatives have been convicted in court and imprisoned during Bahrain's uprising. They are her uncle, her brother-in-law and her husband, the father of her 2-year-old daughter. The 28-year-old activist and blogger has campaigned for their release and went on a hunger strike for 10 days earlier this year to protest their detention.

More than 35 people have died in clashes and protest-related violence since February. Bahrain's protests, which grew out of the Arab Spring uprisings around the Middle East, are the largest and most sustained to have hit the Arab monarchies and sheikdoms that line the Persian Gulf.

On Thursday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, head of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, called on both the government and protesters to refrain from violence. As host to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, Bahrain is strategically important to the United States.

Posner told reporters in the capital, Manama, that Washington remains concerned about the government's "excessive use of force, including tear gas, in response to ongoing street protests."

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Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.