DUBAI Bahrain's leading Shi'ite opposition party Wefaq said on Monday 250 people have been detained and 44 others went missing since a security crackdown crushed weeks of protests, more than double last week's figures.
Earlier this month, Bahrain's Sunni rulers, the al-Khalifa family, imposed martial law and called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Gulf neighbors, including top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, to quell weeks of unrest during pro-democracy protests led by mostly Shi'ite demonstrators.
Separately, military prosecutors banned media from reporting about suspects and cases linked to the martial law, state news agency BNA reported on Monday.
The severity of the crackdown, which banned all public gatherings and spread masked security forces across the city to man checkpoints, stunned Bahrain's majority Shi'ites and angered the region's non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran.
Wefaq said many Bahrainis, mostly Shi'ites, were being arrested at checkpoints or in house raids. In other cases, family members report that relatives simply do not return home, Wefaq member Mattar Ibrahim Mattar told Reuters by telephone.
"We have around 250 confirmed arrested and 44 who are missing, though that number fluctuates when people reappear after hiding from police," said Mattar, a parliamentarian before Wefaq resigned over the use of force against protesters.
"Just today and yesterday, we got calls from 35 families saying they lost contact with their relatives when they passed through a checkpoint," Mattar said. "We don't know what's happened to them, authorities won't say. In these conditions, we actually have to hope they were arrested."
Bahraini officials were not immediately available to comment on Wefaq's estimated number of those missing or arrested.
More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites and most are calling for a constitutional monarchy, but demands by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed minority Sunnis, who fear unrest serves Iran, just across Gulf waters.
Wefaq says most of those who were detained or went missing were not activists, though many political leaders were arrested in the days immediately following the March 16 crackdown.
A few of those who went missing turned up dead last week.
(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Louise Ireland)