MANAMA, Bahrain — Empowered by a six-week-old state of emergency, the Sunni minority government of Bahrain has arrested scores of Shiite women teachers and schoolgirls, held them for days in prison and subjected them to physical and verbal abuse, according to victims, human rights advocates and a former member of parliament.
In the fast-expanding systematic mistreatment of Shiites here, some observers say the red line will be the sexual abuse of women detainees, a step that if taken could provoke violence between the Muslim sects. The security forces appear to be at the brink of crossing it.
At least 150 women have been arrested, and at least 17 remain in custody, according to al-Wefaq, the moderate Shiite political organization that had 18 of its members elected to the 40-member parliament. They quit, however, to protest the current crackdown.
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s king set a fast-track timetable to end martial law-style rule in a bid to display confidence that authorities have smothered a pro-reform uprising, even as rights groups denounce the measures. The announcement to lift emergency rule two weeks early on June 1 came hours after the start of a closed-door trial accusing activists of plotting to overthrow the gulf state’s rulers.