Bahrain extends detention of rights campaigner held in rally

DUBAI Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:25am EST

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has extended by seven days the detention of a leading human rights activist who was arrested on Monday during a demonstration in the Gulf Arab island kingdom, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Sayed Yousif al-Muhafda, from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was being investigated on charges of spreading false news on Twitter after he was arrested by police during a march in the capital Manama, Mohammed al-Jishi said.

All rallies and gatherings are banned in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and which has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protests led by its Shi'ite Muslim majority erupted last year.

Jishi told Reuters that Muhafda had not taken part in the demonstration. "He was there only as an observer," he said.

Muhafda was detained last month for a week on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering and an unauthorized march.

On Monday, police fired stun grenades to break up dozens of protesters and arrested about 25 people, including Muhafda, during rallies in the centre of Manama.

The Interior Ministry said on Twitter late on Monday that "police confronted illegal rallies and rioting in Manama and arrested a number of lawbreakers". It gave no further details.

Bahrain has stepped up efforts to end the unrest in recent months and several activists have been arrested or jailed for organizing or taking part in unlicensed protests.

The government also detained four men in October on charges of defaming the king on Twitter.

Earlier this month, Bahrain's opposition groups welcomed a call by the Crown Prince for dialogue. But meetings have not started and the unrest has continued.

On Sunday, Information Minister Samira Ibrahim bin Rajab criticized the opposition for "misusing" the call for dialogue, state news agency BNA reported.

BNA quoted Rajab as telling al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that dialogue would start once "the opposition stops violence and relinquishes conditions" to engage in that dialogue.

The opposition had said they were prepared to meet without any pre-conditions, but called for the results of talks to be put to a referendum.

Wefaq, the leading opposition group in Bahrain, said in a statement on Sunday that "Bahrain suffers the toughest political crisis in its modern history."

"The opposition societies demanded the regime to respond to the calls from the international community to immediately start a fruitful and serious dialogue that can achieve the democratic transition and realize the people's aspirations," Wefaq said.

Bahrain's ruling Al-Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims, used martial law and help from Gulf neighbors to put down last year's uprising, but unrest has resumed.

The opposition says little progress has been made towards its demands for reforms including a parliament with full powers to legislate and form governments. Many Shi'ites complain of political and economic marginalization, a charge Bahrain denies.

(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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