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BAHRAIN: Crackdown continues, opposition and human rights groups say [Video]

March 31, 2011 | 10:17 am

While regional attention is riveted by the ongoing unrest in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the government of Bahrain has been left in relative peace by the international community to continue its crackdown against the anti-government protest movement there, human rights groups say.

"The last few nights they been raiding houses and beating and arresting people," Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told Babylon & Beyond, adding that approximately 400 people are either missing or in custody. 

"Some people were also arrested at checkpoints controlled by thugs brought in from other Arab and Asian countries -- they wear black masks in the streets," Ragab said.

Saudi and other Gulf Arab securityPicture 11 forces entered Bahrain at the invitation of the government two weeks ago, and activists claim additional muscle has been brought in from Pakistan and possibly other Asian countries.

Ragab accused security forces and the army of targeting Bahraini Shiites, who constitute a majority in the country and have made up the bulk of the opposition movement. The Sunni-dominated government and ruling family are backed by the United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. Twenty-four  people have been killed in clashes between police and demonstrators since the protest movement erupted on Feb. 14, the government said Tuesday.

The video featured above was posted on YouTube and claims to show a masked Saudi soldier destroying a Shiite religious banner in Bahrain.

Another video posted by the same user claims to show a Bahraini demonstrator being arrested. Neither video could be verified.

"The government says it is taking steps to ensure stability and security, but what's happening is the exact opposite. We're in one of the most dangerous stages, where citizens have no security," Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, a member of the country's largest Shiite opposition group Wefaq, told Reuters.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch released a report on Wednesday in which it accused Bahraini security forces of beating and detaining wounded protesters, and even of denying some live-saving treatment.

"Since the Bahraini Defense Force (BDF) took over the country's largest public medical facility on March 16, 2011, security and military forces have sought out and threatened, beaten and detained patients injured by teargas, rubber bullets, birdshot pellets, and live ammunition," the report said. "These patients also have been removed from hospitals or forcibly transferred to other medical facilities, often against medical advice."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: Footage posted to YouTube claims to show a Saudi soldier destroying a Shiite religious banner. Credit: YouTube.