SHAFAQNA – Thousands of Bahraini demonstrators have taken to the streets in solidarity with political prisoners and jailed activists, sparking fierce clashes with regime forces. On Friday, the regime forces launched another heavy-handed crackdown on demonstrators, who had taken to the streets to express solidarity with detainees and demand the immediate release of Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the country’s main opposition group.
Al Khalifa regime forces used teargas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters in several towns around the capital Manama.
Witnesses say the rally in Diraz turned violent after Al Khalifa forces fired teargas and birdshots to disperse the anti-regime protesters.
The protesters carried placards of Sheikh Salman, who has been under arrest since December 28 last year.
The top opposition leader has been in custody over allegations of inciting hatred against the government and calling for the overthrow of the regime. Al-Wefaq has rejected the charges as malicious and outright lies.
The angry demonstrators called for the release of all political prisoners in the kingdom and condemned human rights violations by the ruling monarchy.
Anti-regime demonstrators also demanded the cancellation of the upcoming Formula One Grand Prix.
Bahrainis say Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, should cancel the event over Manama’s ongoing crackdown on protests. Pro-democracy activists across Bahrain have also demanded that F1 bosses cancel the race due to Bahrain’s poor human rights record. The event is scheduled to start on Sunday, April 19.
The 2011 race was canceled amid a heavy crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the kingdom which left many people dead.
The latest protests come as Amnesty International has recently slammed the Bahraini regime for the “rampant” human rights abuses against opposition activists and anti-government protesters.
In its report titled “Behind the Rhetoric: Human rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated,” the rights organization criticized Manama for resorting to torture, arbitrary detentions, and the excessive use of force against peaceful government critics, including some as young as 17.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program Said Boumedouha said that “brutality remains a hallmark of Bahrain’s security forces.”
“As the world’s eyes fall on Bahrain during the Grand Prix this weekend, few will realize that the international image the authorities have attempted to project of the country as a progressive reformist state committed to human rights masks a far more sinister truth,” Boumedouha said.
Protests began in Bahrain in 2011 against the Western-backed family of Al Khalifa, who have ruled the tiny Persian Gulf Kingdom under a monarchy system for decades.
Scores of Bahrainis have also been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested during the ongoing crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.