Bahrain Human-Rights Organization Urges King to Free Detainees

A human-rights organization in Bahrain, where protests are planned for tomorrow, urged the Persian Gulf island kingdom’s monarch to release detainees and open talks with opposition groups.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa must “start serious dialogue with civil society and opposition groups on disputed issues,” the Manama-based Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said in a letter to the monarch dated yesterday. Measures must be taken to avoid use of violence by security forces against peaceful protests, it said.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, experienced violent clashes between Shiite Muslims and police before parliamentary elections in October. The Shiites, who represent between 60 and 70 percent of the population, say they face job and housing discrimination by the government.

“The Revolution of 14th February in Bahrain” group on Facebook Inc.’s website is backing the protest and has more than 13,400 followers.

North African and Middle East countries were shaken in the last few weeks by protests and demonstrations that drove Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from office in January and forced Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to cede his presidential powers to the country’s armed forces on Feb. 11.

Bahrain’s royal family has close ties with Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy. Many among Bahrain’s populace retain cultural and family links with Shiite-dominated Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival.

The release of more than 450 detainees would help “ease the tension” between Bahrain’s ruling family and the Shiite majority, Nabeel Rajab, head of the human-rights group, said in the letter. The king could “avoid the fatal mistake committed” in Egypt and Tunisia by “the dissolving of the security apparatus” he said.

The monarch ordered the payment of 1,000 dinars ($2,652) to each Bahraini family to mark the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter, the Bahrain News Agency said Feb. 11.

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