Bahrain woman says on hunger strike over arrests

MANAMA (Reuters) – The daughter of a prominent Bahraini activist says she is on hunger strike to protest the arrest of her father, husband and other relatives after martial law was declared to quell weeks of pro-democracy protests.

Zainab Alkhawaja wrote a letter addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama on her blog “Angry Arabiya” announcing the start of her hunger strike on Monday evening and urging him to call for the release of her family.

“I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the al-Khalifa regime has proven that they do not care about our rights, or our lives,” she said.

“I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Alkhawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My uncle: Salah Alkhawaja.”

It appeared to be the first time an activist has gone on hunger strike since the government cleared the streets of protesters last month.

Bahrain said on Monday it had released 86 people held under martial law while “legal measures” were being taken against other detainees. The government has not said how many it is holding but rights activists claim hundreds have been detained.

The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in the Gulf island kingdom, offered muted criticism of the government’s crackdown and analysts say it refrained from pushing Bahrain to ease its security sweeps due to anxieties over interference from its rival Iran, just across the Gulf.

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim rulers quelled weeks of protests led by mostly Shi’ite demonstrators by spreading security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from neighboring Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, including oil giant Saudi Arabia.

The severity of the crackdown stunned Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority, who say they have no ties to non-Arab Shi’ite power Iran. It also sparked criticism from Iran and Shi’ite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bahrain’s leading opposition group Wefaq said on Tuesday three Shi’ite doctors and several staff from the Education Ministry had been arrested on Monday, bringing the total number of detainees to 453.

“After these problems, many are afraid to contact us,” said Wefaq member Mattar Ibrahim Mattar. “I estimate the real number is not less than 600. That’s one in every 1,000 Bahrainis,” he said.

Activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was in exile for 12 years and briefly imprisoned for political dissent in 2004 after his return, was arrested on Saturday with his two sons-in-law, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights center said on Saturday.

A pro-government Facebook group on Bahrain called “Together we will expose the traitors,” has posted pictures of demonstrations in Manama and enlarged the faces of protesters holding signs calling for the downfall of the monarchy.

“We cannot live among these traitors,” the tag line for some of the pictures said. “Please try to find their names so they can be punished.”

State television has also enlarged images of protesters to highlight the participation of some people.

Wefaq has expressed concern over the past weeks about vigilante justice being taken against Shi’ites suspected of participating in protests.

The bodies of some of those who have gone missing in recent weeks have been found with traces of beatings.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter, additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Dubai; Editing by Andrew Hammond and Jon Hemming)

Bahrain woman says on hunger strike over arrests