Bahrain cracks down on opposition as elections near

Human rights activists claim Gulf state's government arrests opposition figures, blocks Internet and censors Shiite mosque sermons.

With general elections scheduled for next month, the ruling government in Bahrain has been increasing its suppression of opponents, blocking Internet sites and taking over control of Shiite mosques, human rights activists have claimed.
The island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia has set parliamentary elections for October 23 where citizens will vote for 40 elected MPs. While they will have limited power and rule under a higher council controlled by a monarch, the elections were toted as a progressive march toward democracy in the Arab world.
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They government said it was taking the action to thwart terrorism and a plot to overthrow the monarchy. But it was a charge opposition figures dismissed.
“My own picture was put in the Bahrain newspapers as a member of a terrorist group,” Nabeel Rajab President of The Bahrain Center for Human Rights told The Media Line. “But after 12 hours my picture was removed. I was a terrorist for 12 hours only,” he jested.
“They have arrested almost all the opposition figures who are not participating in the elections and many of the known human rights defenders and shut down hundreds of blogs and websites and chatting forums,” Rajab added.
Starting in August, the minority Sunni-controlled government commenced a series of arrest, targeting the Shiite majority and leaders within the HAQ movement, the Civil Liberties and Democracy movement in Bahrain. Among those arrested was opposition Dr. Abdaljalil Al Singace a prominent member of HAQ as well as Ali Abduleman, the creator of the largest online Internet site opposed to the government. Abduleman’s site was one of those blocked.
“The government is attempting to control all opposition and to silence all the people who critique the government,” Rajab said.
He added that while the Sunni mosque sermons have long been drafted by the government, now they were taking control of the independent Shiite mosques and censoring the Friday sermons.
“They are going to control the mosques as well so that no body gives speeches that criticize the government. For example what is being said in the mosque is now being written by the government."
 Massoud Shadjareh a chair on the Islamic Human Rights Commission also voiced his deep concern for Bahrain, warning that the current crackdown was different then before.
“One of the things we are very concerned with is this level of treatment of ones own citizens; not even minority but majority citizens. It is really something that cannot be sustained in any society,” Shadjareh told The Media Line.
Both Rajab and Shadjareh approached the current climate in Bahrain armed with cynical realism that appeared to give little credence to the chance the elections this time could change much in their country.
 “For your information people don’t have any more hope,” Rajab confided. “People had hope in 2002 and a little hope also in 2006 when the opposition participated, but now it is declared by everybody - even if the Parliament is the majority opposition - they can’t do anything.”
Shadjareh felt that the situation was especially grave.
“In a society like Bahrain where real democracy is nonexistent there has to be an appeal to the authorities to actually behave in a way that can address the needs and aspirations of its citizens,” Shadjareh said.
“People are more hopeless about the whole political process” Rajab added, saying it appeared unlikely that any hope would return on election day October 23rd.