February 14 will be the one-year anniversary of anti-government protests in Bahrain. The government and activists are preparing for a tense month with reports of security forces put on high alert. From February to March of last year, thousands of pro-democracy activists demonstrated, occupying the Pearl Roundabout in central Manama, the country’s capital. In March, the ruling al-Khalifa family requested aid from neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sent in troops and tanks. Security forces seized the Pearl Roundabout and many protesters and activists were arrested and imprisoned; a number of doctors, nurses and medical personnel who had treated wounded protesters in hospital were also arrested.
Martial law was lifted in June, after at least 35 people had died including four in police custody. The Pearl Roundabout was destroyed in March and those imprisoned tried in military, rather than civilian, courts. Prominent human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was among those given a life sentence. Four others were sentenced to death and many have reported being beaten, tortured and sexually abused while imprisoned.
Continuing Protests and Police Repression
Protests have continued to occur regularly among the “underdeveloped neighborhoods” where Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite Muslim population lives; the country’s Shi’ites have long complained of economic and political marginalization. According to activists, at least 25 — some activists say at least 60 — have died in clashes with police who have continued to use teargas and birdshot and pursue protesters in security vehicles. Zainab Alkhawaja, the daughter of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, has steadfastly continued the fight for human rights, democracy and justice in Bahrain, first with a hunger strike and, ever since, with regular updates on her Angry Arabiya Twitter feed.
Abdulhadi Alkhawaja is reportedly on the fifth day of a hunger strike and has been hospitalized due to his deteriorating health.
Protesters March to Pearl Square
Large demonstrations were held throughout the country in a “day of rage” last week. Protesters called for changes to Bahrain’s constitution, an elected prime minister, the release of political prisoners and an end to the use of torture. At least 25 were reported injured and one man died after suffering “severe head trauma.” Activist Nabeel Rajab marched with his wife and two children to Pearl Square as did a number of other activists including Zainab Alkhawaja, who was arrested as she made her way to the barbed wire surrounding Pearl Square as shown in this video.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which Rajab is the director of, reports that security forces shot at marchers with stun grenades and tear gas. Alkhawaja has been detained at Noaim Police Station and needs a lawyer. She was previously detained for five days in December.
On February 12, two US citizens, Radhika Sainath and Huwaida Arraf, who were filming police repression of a peaceful demonstation in Manama, were arrested, held for 11 hours and then deported.
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