Bahraini police fired tear gas at peaceful demonstrators as a few hundred people marched across the country on Friday protesting a government ban on public gatherings. Police also reportedly arrested prominent activist Said Yousif al-Muhafdah.
Several demonstrations took place following Friday prayers with people shouting slogans against the kingdom’s monarch and the US.
A 12-year-old was injured in the head by a canister as police fired tear gas at protesters in the town of Bilad al-Qadeem, just outside the capital Manama, activists say. Human rights activist and the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, was reportedly arrested as he tried to assist the boy, journalist Mazen Mahdi tweeted.
Before the arrest, Said Yousif al-Muhafdah posted a picture and tweeted “I can see the riot police shooting toxic gas at peaceful protesters in #Biladalqadeem now.” This is not the first time he is being detained by police – the activist was arrested in August apparently for speaking against the kingdom’s rulers.
Also on Friday dozens of protesters were dispersed by a disproportionate number of security forces in the village of Diraz, west of Manama, activists say.
Clashes between police and protesters have become a routine, often culminating in arrests in the tiny oil-rich kingdom of Bahrain, where the Sunni monarchy has been brutally cracking down on a pro-democracy movement, led by a Shiite majority. At least 50 people died in the unrest since 2011.
Earlier this week in a major rollback on freedoms Bahraini authorities banned all public gatherings citing “repeated abuse” of the right to freedom of speech.
The move has been slammed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who said that “these restrictions could aggravate the situation in the country” and urged the government of Bahrain to lift the ban “without delay.”
The recent demonstration come as a civil court sentenced an online activist to six months in prison on charges of insulting the Gulf nation's king in Twitter posts. The activist, whose name was not released, was among four people arrested last month for allegedly defaming Bahrain's Sunni monarch. Three other bloggers remain in custody, awaiting court rulings, in the latest string of crackdowns on opposition by the government.
While having a strong opinion on events of the Arab Spring, Washington has been reluctant to seriously condemn violence in Bahrain, an island nation located in the Persian Gulf that hosts the US 5th Fleet.
Protesters claim US President Barack Obama is not living up to his pledge, made in the last presidential debate, that "America has to stand with democracy," AP reports. They believe Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement is not getting the US support because the monarchy allows the US to host the crucial military base.
"We are a victim," Said Yousif al-Muhafdah earlier told AP, "because we have oil and we have the American 5th Fleet."
Colin Cavell, a former lecturer at the University of Bahrain, says that despite a number of statements from the regime, there is no improvement in Bahrain.
“The regime has learnt to play the world media like a violin. They claim the support human rights, they claim they are instituting dialogue with the opposition, they claim all sorts of changes in Bahrain. Meanwhile they continue the crackdown, the torture, jailing and the killings – all because they know the US is silent right now and take advantage of that,” Cavell revealed.