Arrest of Shiite activists sparks riots ahead of Bahrain election

The detention of four Shiite activists ahead of next month's election fuels sectarian riots in Bahrain, according to a human rights group.

KUWAIT CITY // The detention of four Shiite activists ahead of next month's election has fuelled sectarian riots in Bahrain, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said yesterday. "There were clashes in seven or eight places between riot police and villagers last night, and some highways were blocked by protesters," Nabeel Rajab said. "In the past few months, we've seen an increasing number of protests and they have now been inflamed by the government. Bahrain could be seen as a country in an emergency."

The wave of violence was sparked by the arrest on Friday of Abduljalil al Singace, the spokesman of a Shiite political group called the Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy. Three more Shiite activists were arrested on Sunday for belonging to a network "created to undermine security and stability of the country", a source from the National Security Apparatus told the Bahrain News Agency. Two of the men, Mohammed al Muqdad and Saeed al Nouri, are outspoken clerics, and the third, Abdulghani al Kanjar, heads a human rights group that supports victims of torture.

Mr al Singace has been charged with inciting acts of violence and destabilising the country, a security source was quoted as saying in the Bahrain Tribune yesterday. However, Mr Rajab disputed the accusations. "I don't think anyone in Bahrain believes those stories," he said. The arrests could further inflame sectarian divisions in the run-up to the parliamentary elections on October 23. Shiites, who make up the majority of the island's population, will be fighting for greater representation in districts that they complain have been gerrymandered to give Sunni candidates an edge.

The main Shiite political group, Al Wefaq, currently holds 17 of the chamber's 40 seats. Mr Rajab said that by targeting groups such as the Haq movement and increasing sectarian tension, hardline parties will be emboldened at the expense of Al Wefaq, the only Shiite party participating in the election. @Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae