A masked protester kisses the Holy Quran during a demonstration in Salmabad village, south of Manama, yesterday.
DUBAI: Human Rights Watch yesterday said that police had arrested 20 opposition activists in towns near Bahrain’s Formula One circuit in a sign of rising political tension before the Grand Prix on April 21.
The Bahrain government denied any arrests had taken place.
The Gulf Arab state, where the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, has been hit by unrest since pro-democracy protests broke out in early 2011, putting it in the frontline of the region-wide tussle between Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.
Watched by millions around the world, the Grand Prix is the biggest sporting event hosted by the US-allied country and the government is hoping for a big turnout at this year’s event despite continuing violent unrest.
An HRW statement said the detentions were made without a warrant and with the apparent intention of preventing a repeat of protests during last year’s race, which went ahead against a backdrop of burning tyres and riot police firing teargas at petrol-bomb throwing protesters in Shia villages.
But Information Minister Sameera Rajab said: “We discredit any news of such arrests in recent days or even months,”
Nobody could be arrested without a warrant, he said.
“This doesn’t happen in Bahrain. If there is any action against peace and security, it must be dealt with according to law.”
The race at the Sakhir desert circuit was cancelled in 2011 when the protests were crushed and at least 35 people were killed. Activists put the tally far higher.
Almost daily demonstrations have taken place in Bahrain since the end of martial law in June 2011, often ending in confrontations as youths throw stones or petrol bombs and police fire birdshot pellets and tear gas.