x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Bahrain says it arrested 22 over 'terror acts' in the past two months – rights groups differ

Opposition and human-rights groups say opposition-stronghold neighbourhoods are excessively penalised for their political views. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Police in Bahrain arrested 22 suspects in connection with alleged "terror acts" carried out over the past two months, including during the Formula One Grand Prix, according to the ministry of interior.

The charges, including arson, vandalism and attacks on police, relate to alleged offences between February 28 and April 20.

Nine of the suspects were arrested over incidents in the week before the F1 race and one for an offence during the race weekend.

"The arrests sent out a clear message that criminal activity that jeopardised the safety of the public and police would not be tolerated," said the unidentified Bahraini general director of crime detection and forensic science directorate in a statement released on Saturday.

Between April 19 and 21, the F1 race weekend, there were heightened confrontations between security forces and opposition groups, some of whom argued that holding the event was inappropriate while the island was mired in a political crisis.

The Shiite-dominated opposition groups, who argue that their community faces political and economic marginalisation, held daily protests before and during the race weekend. Smaller demonstrations also erupted in the Shiite villages surrounding the capital and often deteriorated into clashes between police and protesters.

More-radical opposition groups blocked roads with burning tyres and other barriers. Six suspects were arrested for attacking police vehicles on April 18 in the village of Saar. Another six were charged with attacking a police station in Maghaba on March 27.

Many pro-government groups argue that such incidents amount to terrorism, and they have called for a firmer security response.

"What is the difference between the violence that happened in Bahrain during the Formula One season and what happened in Boston?" asked Nabil Said on Saturday at a forum organised by the National Unity Gathering, a political bloc allied with the government.

Opposition and human-rights groups say opposition-stronghold neighbourhoods are excessively penalised for their political views.

Checkpoints were set-up throughout the race weekend and residents reported heavy use of tear gas. Opposition groups also reported a higher number of arrests, including dozens during early-morning house raids.

"We have documented 100 arrests in the lead-up to F1 and afterward," said Said Yousif Al Muhafda, the head of documentation at the non-governmental Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

edickinson@thenational.ae.

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