Prominent Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, had to be briefly hospitalized on Friday night after being beaten on his back, head and neck by security forces. Video footage shows forces charging at protesters shortly after Rajab said the protesters were peaceful and refused an officer’s order that they disperse. The US State Department has expressed concern about the assault on Rajab and called on Bahrain to undertake a full investigation.
The US Navy’s fifth fleet is stationed in Bahrain, and the two countries consider themselves allies. Two members of Congress have introduced a measure to halt a $53 million arms sale to Bahrain. The BBC‘s Rajesh Mirchandani says that it is “unusual” for the US to openly criticize the Bahraini government. The majority of Bahrainis are Shia Muslims but the country is ruled by a Sunni dynasty. Mirchandani notes that “even though the US wants to support democracy movements in the Middle East, Sunni-led Bahrain is a key ally against Iran’s Shia influence.”
Bahrain’s Interior Minister has denied the attack, claiming that police found Rajab on the ground and took him to the hospital. A video released by the Bahraini government shows what it says was an “unauthorized demonstration” in the capital of Manama.
Since protests broke out in Bahrain almost a year ago, demonstrations have occurred almost daily, even in the face of the arrest and torture of detainees, the government’s destruction of the monument at the Pearl Roundabout which had become a center of the protesters and what seems to be an increase in the use of excessive force against protesters. Over 40 have been killed and hundreds detained.
Rights activist Zainab Alkhawaja, who was briefly imprisoned last month, was present at Friday’s protest. Via her Angry Arabiya Twitter feed, she said that Najab had told the police that the protesters were “peaceful, not doing anything illegal.” She accompanied Rajab to Salmaniya Hospital, noting that the “hospital is like a military base, filled with police and mukhabarat,” with every door guarded. She and Rajab’s lawyer were stopped at the door of the hospital and told they were not allowed in.
Alkhawaja quoted Rajab:
“The most important thing, is we don’t give up. That’s why next week we’ll do the same as 2day”
Alkhawaja’s husband and uncle have been imprisoned since March and her father, human rights activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, has been given a life sentence. She visited him the day after Rajab was beaten and said on Twitter:
Just got out from a visit with my dad, he told us “enjoy walking on the rightful path, smile and don’t be sad.”
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Photo taken in February 2011 by Al Jazeera English