DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s King Hamad said on Wednesday he would not allow any more “insults” of the armed forces in the Gulf state in an apparent warning to leading Shi‘ite opposition party Wefaq after criticisms it leveled earlier this week.
The army, led by Field Marshal Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed, took charge of ending protests led by the Shi‘ite Muslim majority that erupted last year after uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, enforcing a period of martial law.
It was aided by Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces which Manama called in after accusing Shi‘ite neighbor Iran of fomenting the protests that threatened the grip of the ruling Al Khalifa family - Sunni allies of Riyadh and Washington.
“We have heard voices in recent days spreading hatred and abusing freedom of expression to the extent of insulting the Bahrain Defence Forces, and without doubt it is our duty not to allow this to be repeated,” the king said in a speech to senior military officers at their headquarters.
“The executive agencies must take the necessary legal measures to deter these violations,” he said in comments carried on the state news agency BNA.
Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of Wefaq, criticized the army at a rally on Tuesday, saying it would fail to suppress demands for democratic reforms in the island state.
“You wronged us, and you believe that what you did will stop us demanding our rights, but no matter what brute force you use, you will fail,” he said.
He also said that clerics have the ability to bring tens of thousands of Bahrainis onto the streets in protest.
Bahrain remains in a state of turmoil as Wefaq organizes weekly mass rallies, and protesters in Shi‘ite villages and youths clash almost nightly with riot police.
The economy has slowed in the banking and tourism hub, which is also the base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
On Wednesday prosecutors also called in senior Wefaq official Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi for questioning and extended the detention for another week of prominent activist Nabeel Rajab over a tweet criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, who has occupied his post since 1971.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders expressed concern over what it called government reprisals against opposition figures and activists who attended a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva last month.
A secretly-filmed video from an unknown source was published on pro-government Internet forums and Twitter this month showing a prominent lawyer who has defended political activists sleeping with a woman, believed to be his wife.
Both Mousawi and the lawyer attended the Geneva meeting, in which the U.N. body expressed concern over harassment of activists who cooperated with its annual review of the country.
The lawyer has said the video was shot in 2008 and that he was threatened with its release when he was detained during the crackdown last year.
A government spokesman said releasing such a tape was “unacceptable” but that it was not clear why it became public.
“The tape in question has been alleged to be part of the person in question’s personal library and was allegedly obtained during the events of last year,” said Fahad Al-Binali.
Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Angus MacSwan