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Bahrain turns on its Shias

A government crackdown on the Shiite-dominated political opposition is reaching deep into Bahrain’s middle-class professions, according to local political leaders and human rights activists, potentially threatening the country’s long-term stability. Philip Kennicott reports.

world Updated: Apr 23, 2011 01:30 IST
Philip Kennicott

A government crackdown on the Shiite-dominated political opposition is reaching deep into Bahrain’s middle-class professions, according to local political leaders and human rights activists, potentially threatening the country’s long-term stability.

Doctors, businessmen, engineers, academics, teachers and now journalists have all been targeted for questioning and detention, observers say, with hundreds arrested and hundreds more fired.

The repression extends beyond political leaders and activists associated with the largely Shiite-led demonstrations that began February 14. Family members and associates of people detained say that the government is targeting Shiites indiscriminately, regardless of their political activity, and with a particular focus on doctors and educators.

“It is retribution,” said one prominent opposition figure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest. “But it is also an ethnic cleansing of top professions.”

One political leader estimated that as many as 1,200 people have been fired in recent weeks. In many cases, the whereabouts of the detained are not known, and lawyers have no access to them.

A government spokeswoman denied claims of political retribution. “Any arrests were done because they weren’t following their rightful duties,” said Luma Bashmi of Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority.

(For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com)