Shi’ites say they endured reign of terror under martial law in Sunni-ruled Bahrain

June 1, 2011

(Martial law troops at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama March 18, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

Bahraini Shi’ites say they have endured a reign of terror during 11 weeks of martial law imposed to break up a pro-democracy movement that for the first time threatened the control of a Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab dynasty. Martial law was lifted on Wednesday. The authorities hope this will show investors and tourists that the island state is back to normal.

Shi’ite dissidents fear repression will go on. Thousands have been detained or dismissed from jobs in a crackdown that has targeted those who took part in six weeks of protests centered on the capital’s Pearl Roundabout. Dozens of Shi’ite places of worship have been pulled down or vandalized.

Twenty-one people, seven of whom are abroad, are on military trial for trying to overthrow the government. They include figures from Shi’ite opposition parties who had advocated making Bahrain a republic, as well as the Sunni leader of secular group Waad and independent Shi’ite rights activists. Four people have died in custody and two Shi’ites have been sentenced to death for the killing of a policeman.

The crackdown has for now stifled an unprecedented pro-democracy movement inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that toppled long-time U.S. allies. The government says the protests were manipulated by Shi’ite power Iran.

An island state where the Sunni Al-Khalifa family rules over a majority Shi’ite population, Bahrain has seen such strife before. But doctors, teachers and journalists who have been released, as well as the families of some of the 21 men on trial, say the repression was far worse this time. They recounted beatings with plastic hosepipes, electric shocks, threats of rape and other humiliations such as being urinated on or verbal insults against their Shi’ite faith.

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