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Bahrain woman says on hunger strike over arrests

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April 12, 2011, 10:14 a.m. | World — by Reuters

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DUBAI, April 12 (Reuters) - The daughter of a prominent Bahraini activist says she is on hunger strike to protest the arrest of her father, husband and other relatives in an ongoing crackdown that quelled weeks of pro-democracy protests. Zainab Al Khawaja wrote a letter addressed to Barack Obama on her blog, Angry Arabiya, announcing the start of her hunger strike April 11 evening and urging the U.S. president to call for the release of her family.

"I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the al-Khalifa regime has proven that they do not care about our rights or our lives," she said.

"I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Al Khawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My uncle: Salah Al Khawaja."

It appeared to be the first time an activist has gone on hunger strike since the government began the crackdown last month.

On Monday Bahrain said it had released 86 people held under martial law while "legal measures" were being taken against other detainees under martial law. The government has not said how many it is holding but rights activists talk of hundreds.

The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in the Gulf island kingdom, offered muted criticism of the government's crackdown and analysts say it refrained from pushing Bahrain to ease its security sweeps due to anxieties over interference from its rival Iran, just across Gulf waters.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers quelled weeks of protests led by mostly Shi'ite demonstrators by spreading security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, including oil giant Saudi Arabia.

The severity of the crackdown stunned Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, who say they have no ties to non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran. It also sparked criticism from Iran and Shi'ite groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

More than 400 people have been arrested and dozens have gone missing since the crackdown began on March 16, the leading Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq has said.

Activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who was in exile for 12 years and briefly imprisoned for political dissent in 2004 after his return, was arrested on Saturday with his two sons-in-law, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights centre said on Saturday.

A pro-government Facebook group on Bahrain called "Together we will expose the traitors", has posted the pictures of demonstrations in Manama and enlarged the faces of protesters holding signs calling for the downfall of the monarchy.

"We cannot live among these traitors," the tag line for some of the pictures said. "Please try to find their names so they can be punished."

State television has also enlarged the images of protesters to highlight the participation of some people.

Wefaq has expressed concern over the past weeks about vigilante justice being taken against Shi'ites suspected of participating in protests. The bodies of some of those who have gone missing in recent weeks have been found with traces of beatings.
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