Bahrain urged to probe alleged attack on protester

The United States calls on its ally Bahrain to investigate the case of a prominent Bahraini activist who was allegedly beaten by security forces.

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WASHINGTON // The United States yesterday called on its ally Bahrain to investigate the case of a prominent Bahraini activist who was allegedly beaten by security forces.

The opposition said several officers threw Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, to the ground and beat him on the head, neck and back after a protest march on Friday.

Bahrain's interior ministry denied the accounts, saying on its Twitter feed that police found Mr Rajab "lying on the ground" and took him to the hospital.

The Sunni-led kingdom, home to the US Fifth Fleet, last year sought to quell anti-government demonstrations mounted by the country's Shiite Muslim majority.

Protest marches have continued in recent months, sometimes turning violent. Officials from the US embassy in Manama met for about an hour on Saturday with Mr Rajab, who had a cut beneath one eye and bruising on his face, according to a senior US official.

"The United States is deeply concerned by continuing incidents of violence in Bahrain between police and demonstrators," said the state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland. "While the facts surrounding the violence that transpired remain in dispute, we strongly urge the government of Bahrain to undertake a full investigation [of Mr Rajab's case] to determine if excessive force was employed by police."

Ms Nuland said embassy staff had raised Mr Rajab's case with senior Bahraini officials and urged the government to carry out recommendations made by an independent commission that found Bahrain used excessive force in last year's crackdown.

"In general we urge all demonstrators to refrain from acts of violence and for police and security forces also to avoid excessive use of force," she added.

"We are very concerned about this case," said the senior US official, adding that if an investigation found the Bahraini police had used excessive force against Mr Rajab, those responsible should be punished.

The official said there has been a pattern in recent months of protesters using Molotov cocktails and throwing things at police but there was no indication of violence by protesters during the march in which Mr Rajab was hurt.

Bahrain launched a crackdown on anti-government protests last year that drew criticism internationally and from the state-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which found detainees were systematically abused.

The US has said a US$53 million (Dh194m) arms sale to Bahrain depends in part on its response to the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which issued its report on November 23.