Bahrain's Center For Human Rights today issued an urgent appeal on behalf of residents in the small village of Al-Ekar, whom it says are under "siege."
The group said in a statement that the village, which is located just south of the capital Manama, is being dealt "a collective punishment" for a Thursday bombing there that left a young police officer dead. Prominent human rights activists Zainab Al-Khawaja, Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, and Naji Fateel were reportedly arrested today as they marched toward the village carrying medical supplies.
Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority today issued a statement denying the village is under lockdown, calling opposition reports on the situation there "greatly exaggerated." Authorities said checkpoints have been set up around the village in order to maintain security and track down those responsible for the bombing there earlier this week.
Bahrain is the scene of ongoing unrest between the ruling Sunni royal family and the mostly Shiite-led opposition. A number of high-profile activists have been imprisoned and some are believed to have been tortured. The monarchy earlier introduced a series of political reforms meant to placate protesters, but the opposition denounced them as cosmetic.
Relatively little is known about Bahrain's opposition movement itself, however. The Carnegie Endowment for Peace's Federic Wehrey returned from the small Gulf kingdom four months ago and said the opposition is split between the web-savvy February 14 Youth Movement and the more established Al-Wefaq opposition group, which today also issued a statement of concern over the situation in Al-Ekar.
Authorities there arrested seven people on Saturday over what they called a "terrorist bombing" in the village on Thursday, which killed a policeman, according to China's Xinhua.
But the opposition has condemned the arrests as arbitrary, with Bahrain Center for Human Rights' Maryam Alkahawa tweeting today:
Al-Wefaq today said regime forces in the village have "verbally abused, harassed, severely beaten citizens," leaving residents "living in terror due to the repeated violations perpetrated by the forces." However, the Council on Foreign Relations' Ed Husain, whose neutrality on Bahrain has been questioned, claims violence is being perpetrated by both sides and "the fine line between demonstrations and riots had been blurred."
Al-Wefaq is rumored close to the Shiite-led Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as well as the Shiite-led Iran. The group has demanded political reforms that fall short of a full overthrow of the al-Khalifa ruling family, according to Wehrey.
Meanwhile, violence between police and protesters continues in Bahrain. Authorities there say 1,500 policemen have been attacked by protesters in the last year, according to Xinhua, while rights groups have slammed the regime for alleged rights violations in its crackdown on dissent.
The strategically-located Gulf nation hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.