Bahraini rights defender is arrested with her one-year old son

SHAFAQNA – Police in Bahrain have detained prominent political activist, Zainab al-Khawaja and her one-year-old son on the fifth anniversary of a violent crackdown against protesters in which Saudi and Emirati soldiers were used.

The detention of Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of a prominent activist serving a life sentence over the 2011 demonstrations, came shortly after authorities said they had deported Lebanese citizens because of their alleged ties to the militant group Hezbollah.

Covering the event the Guardian writes: “The developments show the concerns of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers over the continuing low-level unrest still gripping the Shia-majority country. Last week, the Arab League declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation amid a widening dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

While such a statement exemplifies those political realities corporate media have been keen to project they do offer a reflection of the truth. Unrest in Bahrain, like in many other countries in the region, has little to do with sectarianism. What protesters have been calling for is social justice and equality before the law.

As for religion – the infamous Sunni-Shia divide Persian Gulf monarchies have claimed continue to plague the region, it has been used to de-legitimize people’s calls for reforms, and yearning for democratic institutions.

If indeed sectarianism has been rife in Bahrain, its language has emanated from the palace of al-Khalifa, and not the streets of Bahrain. Bahrainis are not calling for the rise of a Shia state, but that of a democratic one, where all people are offered the same rights and obligations under the law.

Al-Khalifa regime has worked tirelessly to silence Shia Muslims in Bahrain as they happen to be on the very end of the regime’s sectarian wrath. Victimized and ostracized on account of their faith, Bahrain’s Shia majority has lived in repression and oppression for decades.

Officers carrying video cameras raided the home of Khawaja’s in-laws before coming to her apartment in the capital, Manama, taking her and her son Abdulhadi to a local police station, according to her sister and fellow activist, Maryam, who lives in exile in Denmark. Their mother, Khadija al-Musawi, corroborated her account, as did Khawaja’s husband.

Bahraini officials did not immediately comment on the detention. But it comes as Khawaja faces three years in prison on a number of charges, including several involving her tearing up pictures of Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Her sister later said officers had a warrant and that Khawaja would likely be taken to prison to begin serving her sentence. The women’s father is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a leading human rights activist who is serving a life sentence in connection to his role in the anti-government protests.

The demonstrations were put down on 14 March 2011 when Saudi and Emirati troops came over the King Fahd Causeway connecting the two countries and entered the capital.

On Monday, hundreds of Bahraini youths protested in areas outside Manama, with some clashes involving demonstrators throwing petrol bombs and police firing tear gas.

Bahrain blamed Iran for stirring up the 2011 protest, even though a government-sponsored investigation into the unrest said there was no “discernible link” between the protests and the Islamic Republic based on the information the government provided.

Bahrain’s interior ministry announced on Monday it had deported “several Lebanese residents” over their alleged support for or involvement with Hezbollah. “Those who possess images, slogans or symbols in sympathy with terrorist groups or provide support through investment or commercial activities will also be dealt with through the law,” the ministry said in a statement.

At least seven Lebanese families have been deported from Bahrain in recent days, according to Lebanese media.

By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna

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