x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Questions remain about fate of dozens of missing Bahraini activists

Streets remained busy and commercial life appears to be returning to normal in parts of the country.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally in the Bahraini village of Malkiya yesterday. Sergey Ponomarev / AP Photo
Protesters shout slogans during a rally in the Bahraini village of Malkiya yesterday. Sergey Ponomarev / AP Photo

MANAMA // Demonstrators in Bahrain again defied a ban on large gatherings yesterday to bury a man killed last week by security forces, amid questions about the fates of dozens of other protesters who are as yet unaccounted for.

Isa al Radhi, a man in his 40s who had been reported missing since Tuesday, was also confirmed dead yesterday, according to members of the opposition, bringing the death toll from the month-long period of unrest to at least 22, with hundreds injured.

"Unfortunately he passed away on March 15 when clashes took place in Sitra," said Sayed Hadi al Mousawi, a member of al Wefaq, Bahrain's main opposition movement. "He was missing, but there was no way of finding out about his situation."

The government did not respond to requests for comment on al Radhi's death.

Approximately 90 people are still missing, according to Mr al Mousawi. "Really we are worried about them," he said.

Streets remained busy and commercial life appeared to be returning to normal yesterday in parts of the country. Shops were open and the troop presence in the streets was less than in recent days.

Perhaps to quell the growing unrest, King Hamad pledged on Friday to continue the reforms that he began when he came to power in 2002.

"I shall not allow a stop in the reform process which I began when I took the reins of power," he said in a statement issued through the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA). "The door is open to all subjects that are in the interest of all the citizens."

Bahrain's Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, vested by an authorisation from his father King Hamad, had offered opposition an open dialogue after a deadly crackdown on protests last month instigated a sit-in protest at Pearl Roundabout in Manama.

But the opposition which demanded major reforms leading to electing the prime minister in a "real" constitutional monarchy, insisted on the resignation of the current premier - an uncle of the king in office since 1970 - before starting talks.

The atmoshere remained tense yesteerday in predominately Shiite villages such as Deih, where the funeral procession for Ahmed Abdullah Hassan, a local resident, was held. Hassan, a 22-year-old IT technician, was one of three protestors killed on Wednesday by security forces. Thousands turned out for his funeral yesterday, marching defiantly through the village's main street and towards the local cemetery.

Just before the funeral procession began, a 21-year-old man wandered into Deih, wearing only a pair of jeans and no shoes. His bare back was covered in red lashes and his wrists bore the marks of tight handcuffs. He said he had been walking with two friends yesterday morning when they were stopped by police who stripped them of their phones, shirts and shoes, and beat them.

"We are feeling so scared and we can't sleep, especially the women are afraid and our children are scared," said one mother of four, who did not wish to be identified, as the funeral procession marched by.

Ayman, 26, who works with children with special needs, put it simply: "King Hamad has got his Lulu [Pearl Roundabout] back, but he lost his people."

Yesterday afternoon, traffic was heavy on the bridge overlooking Pearl Roundabout, which lay in ruins as the demolition of the monument in the centre of the traffic circle continued.

Some people driving past waved and saluted to the masked soldiers guarding the entry points to the roundabout.

Meanwhile, BNA said government departments had been instructed to open as normal today.

The Bahrain Defence Force announced that the curfew in place in some parts of Manama from 4pm to 4am, would now begin from 8pm. The armed forces also announced a ban on "sea activity" in various areas from 5pm to 6am, warning that "any ship spotted moving during this time will be dealt with appropriately", according to BNA.

Despite the curfews and restrictions, many opposition supporters have arranged to shout from their rooftops in protest every night for fifteen minutes at 8pm and again at 10pm. Cries of "Allah-uh-akhbar" could be heard from key villages throughout the night.

The US State Department has said it is "deeply troubled" by the arrest of several opposition figures and activists, urging authorities to ensure transparent judicial proceedings. A family member of Abdel Jalil al Singace, a leader from the al Haq movement who was among those arrested on Wednesday, said yesterday there was no information about his whereabouts.

 

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence-France Presse and the Associated Press