Bahrain detains activist Zainab al-Khawaja and her one-year-old son


Detention comes as several Lebanese citizens are deported over alleged ties to Hezbollah as Shia-Sunni tensions continue

Zainab al-Khawaja faces three years in prison on charges including tearing up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Photograph: Hasan Jamali/AP

Police in Bahrain have detained a political activist and her one-year-old son on the fifth anniversary of a violent crackdown against Arab spring 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.

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.

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 teargas.

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.

That anti-Iranian fervour has grown since Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shia cleric and protesters in Iran responded by attacking two of the kingdom’s diplomatic missions. Bahrain is part of a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen fighting Houthi Shia rebels backed by Iran.

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.


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