DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain, under pressure to improve its right record to secure a purchase of U.S. arms, said on Tuesday it freed on bail a Shi‘ite female blogger arrested last week and would reinstate state employees suspended following pro-democracy protests.
The arrest of Zainab al-Khawaja, a blogger and human rights activist, and another activist, Masoma al-Sayyid, at a protest on Thursday had drawn protests from rights groups.
Khawaja, the daughter of a jailed opposition leader, and Sayyid were released on Tuesday pending a trial, a government statement said. “An investigation has been opened to review the arrest and legal procedures relating to the two women,” it said.
Images of a policewoman dragging Khawaja on the ground by the handcuffs she had placed on the blogger had received wide coverage on media and the Internet.
“Khawaja’s arrest ... demonstrates the authorities’ utter contempt of freedom of expression and peaceful protest,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, a regional deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement earlier.
Washington has said a pending $53 million arms sale to Bahrain will hinge partly on the monarchy halting the abuses inflicted on protesters outlined in a report by a government-appointed fact-finding commission of international lawyers.
Separately, authorities said on Tuesday they would reinstate the last group of state employees suspended during protests mostly by majority Shi‘ite Muslims earlier this year.
“In accordance with the recommendations made by (the commission), an order reinstating the remaining (180) suspended employees to their jobs in the public sector has been issued,” an official statement said.
Bahrain is important to Western interests in the Middle East because it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and faces Shi‘ite giant Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Iran has denied Bahraini government accusations that it has incited the protests.
Inspired by “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of mainly Shi‘ite Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March demanding curbs on the power of the ruling Al-Khalifa family and an end to perceived discrimination.
The broader pro-democracy movement was suppressed with the help of military forces brought in from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But small, low-level protests have persisted on an almost daily basis.
Reporting by Firouz Sedarat