Bahraini protesters demand release of women


DUBAI – Bahraini opposition activists said they blocked roads with burning tyres yesterday to demand the release of women prisoners, many of them locked up during more than a year of protests against the kingdom’s rulers.

Bahrain’s interior ministry blamed “vandals” for the road blockages, which stopped traffic in the capital Manama. “Legal measures were taken and the situation was returned to normal,” the ministry said.

The government this week announced stiffer measures against illegal protests, but demonstrations have continued. Activists from the “February 14 Youth Coalition” – a group opposed to the monarchy – posted videos online showing masked youths placing tyres in several areas of Manama and setting them alight.

A statement published with the video said they were calling for “the immediate release of women prisoners in the regime’s prisons”.

Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of a jailed protest leader who is on hunger strike, was detained as she tried to protest on a highway during Bahrain’s Formula One grand prix last month, activists said.

Three other women were arrested two weeks ago after staging a protest outside a prison for the release of Ms al-Khawaja’s father, campaigners said.

Opposition party Wefaq said at least 700 people were in jail pending trial or serving terms. The police have not given a figure for those held. Bahrain has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protests erupted last year.

The ruling monarchy has rejected calls for an elected government and parliament with full legislative powers, dubbing the opposition “lackeys of Iran”. Leading activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested last week for questioning over accusations he was using Twitter to incite riots. He has been charged for organising illegal protests.

“Rajab is a prisoner of conscience being held solely for expressing his views,” Amnesty International said.

The government also warned clerics not to incite protests or insult state institutions, widely taken as a threat against leading cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim.

The government prevented Wefaq staging a march in Manama on Wednesday. The US, whose fifth fleet is based in Manama, has been muted in its criticism of Bahrain since the uprising began. It has called for restraint from both the opposition and the government. Crown prince Salman thanked US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Washington on Wednesday for US support during the crisis, state news agency BNA said. – (Reuters)