The wife of a jailed Bahraini activist said on Wednesday she was worried about the fate of her husband after more than two months of hunger strike but the Interior Ministry said he was in good health.
Bahrain’s interior minister, speaking after weeks of protests against a Formula One Grand Prix, described Tuesday night's explosion that wounded that four policemen as terrorist act. He said security forces had the right to protect themselves.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of 14 men in prison for leading an uprising last year, is serving a life sentence for expressing support for Bahrain becoming a republic. He has been fasting for 77 days.
Bahrainis won no major concessions on reducing the powers of the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family in the protests, but one year later the uprising has not gone away.
Mr. Khawaja’s wife, Khadija al-Mousawi, said her husband had failed to call on Tuesday from the military hospital where he is being monitored during his hunger strike and she was unable to obtain any information on his health on Wednesday.
“Something is very wrong,” Ms. Mousawi said. “He was talking about accepting death as the path of freedom, he sounded very weak and tired,” she added, referring to her last conversation with Mr. Khawaja on Monday.
The Interior Ministry said however that Mr. Khawaja - respected by international rights groups as a rights defender but seen by some Bahrainis as a Shi’ite Islamist activist - was fine.
“Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is in good health despite rumours. He is in hospital receiving full medical care,” it said on Twitter.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over “continuing clashes” in Bahrain and called on authorities “to resolve Mr. Al-Khawaja’s case based on due process and humanitarian considerations without any further delay,” his office said.
An appeal trial is under way for the case of Mr. Khawaja and 13 others jailed for leading last year’s protests, and the next hearing is next week.
Western allies such as the U.K. and the U.S., whose Fifth Fleet is moored in Manama, have offered only muted criticism of Bahrain for fear of alienating a trusted friend as well as its Saudi neighbour, which fears unrest could spread amongst Shi’ites in the oil region of its Eastern Province.
ATTACK ON RIOT POLICE
Four policemen were wounded by an explosion in a village west of Manama on Tuesday night that the government said was a “terrorist” act after the protests against the Formula One race held in the Gulf Arab state last week.
Police deploy armoured vehicles, teargas, sound bombs and birdshot to lock protesters down and prevent a critical mass from re-forming. The Manama roundabout at the centre of last year’s uprising remains closed under tight security lockdown.
Activists say the death toll has risen to 80 from 35, including five security personnel, when martial law was lifted in June. One protester was found dead on a rooftop after a clash during the Grand Prix.
The government disputes the causes of death and accuses protesters in villages of being hooligans who try to endanger police lives with a sectarian agenda to destabilize the country.
“The security forces have the right to defend themselves within the framework of the law, there are clear degrees to the use of force,” Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, the interior minister, said in comments carried on the state news agency BNA.
“Those who claim there is excessive use of force or laxity by the security forces are working to distort the noble work of the police.”
The Grand Prix gave world media a window on the conflict in Bahrain despite government hopes that the prestigious motor racing event would signal that all was back to normal there.
Eurasia Group predicted more violence, saying the recent clashes had shown the government was unwilling to compromise with the opposition yet unable to contain unrest.
“This weekend’s incidents reinforce our view that Bahrain is unlikely to regain its position as a stable hub for international corporations and investors in the region,” it said in a note on Wednesday.
The banking and tourism hub is a shadow of its former self. Hotels and office space have low occupancy and fewer Saudi weekend visitors frequent its bars, restaurants and malls. Few foreign media have correspondents based in the country.
Bahrain sent out requests for proposals to the bond market this week, government and banking sources said, in an apparent effort to test whether it could still draw investors into a potential sale.
The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday the small oil-exporter should find policies that end the social unrest and restore confidence in its economy.
Bahrain’s economic growth slowed to 2.2 per cent in 2011, down from 4.5 per cent in the previous year after some businesses closed and investors withdrew from the country’s mutual funds.
“Further measures to diversify the economy, improve the investment climate, and strengthen the labor market are essential for sustained growth and employment,” the IMF’s executive board annual assessment said.