Bahraini police scuffle with relatives of detained Shiites
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
MANAMA, Bahrain: Bahraini police scuffled on Tuesday with dozens of Shiites demanding to visit relatives detained following a string of recent protests in the Sunni-dominated island kingdom, witnesses and local human rights groups reported.
The family members arrived at the public prosecution office in the capital of Manama on Tuesday morning with clothes the government had requested for the detainees but refused to hand them over or leave without seeing their relatives, said the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy in a statement.
Officials refused their demand, and police eventually pushed the screaming men and women out of the prosecution building where the detainees were being interrogated, the rights group and witnesses said. No casualties were reported, but two women who fainted were taken away in ambulances.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Mohammed bin Daina denied the clashes took place, saying only that "the public prosecution ordered the evacuation of the halls to prevent chaos, and police used peaceful methods to implement the order and did not use force against anybody."
Hafez Hafez, a lawyer for some of the detainees, criticized the government for refusing to let anyone, even legal counsel, meet with those being held.
"The public prosecution violated legal procedure by banning lawyers from meeting with the suspects and attending the interrogation sessions," Hafez told The Associated Press.
The lawyer said his conversations with government officials revealed that they are holding 28 detainees, a lower figure than reported by local human rights organizations.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights reported Monday that the government had arrested 43 people following last week's demonstrations, which erupted following the death of Bahraini citizen Ali Jassem after he inhaled tear gas at a protest commemorating social unrest in the 1990s.
Demonstrations broke out at his funeral and then at memorial services which resulted in severe clashes with security services and the burning of a police car.
Local media published an Interior Ministry statement Tuesday saying authorities were still searching for weapons that had been stolen from the burnt police car.
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's 450,000 citizens, but the ruling family is Sunni. Economic disparities between the ruling elite and the poorer majority have contributed to feelings of marginalization among Shiites, who have waged an occasionally violent campaign against the government.
Resentment among Bahrainis is also high over government policy of granting citizenship to Sunnis from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Baluchistan province in Pakistan and giving them housing and jobs, often in the security forces.