MANAMA — Bahraini authorities have detained four Shi’ite activists before a parliamentary poll in which Shi’ites will be seeking a bigger role in governing the Sunni Muslim-led Arab state, their lawyer said on Sunday.The arrests could heighten tensions with Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority before the Oct. 23 election that will be the U.S.- allied island state’s Â third since its king launched a political reform process a decade ago to help quell Shi’ite protests.
Clashes erupted in at least two Shi’ite villages on Saturday night following the Friday arrest of the first of the activists, said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.
“Three more were arrested this morning,” lawyer Mohammed al-Tajer told Reuters.
Bahrain, where the Sunni al-Khalifa family rules over an often disgruntled Shi’ite majority, regularly sees night-time clashes between security forces and protesters in Shi’ite towns.
An interior ministry official declined to comment on the arrests, while the prosecutor’s office could not be reached.
Tajer said the head of human rights at the mainly Shi’ite Haq movement, Abduljalil Singace, was detained on Friday on his return from London where he gave a lecture on human rights in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain’s state news agency reported that Singace had been detained “based on information affecting national security at home and abroad that damages the country’s stability”.
Then on Sunday following the protests, Abdulghani al-Kanjar, who heads a committee of Bahraini human rights groups to support victims of torture, was detained along with Shi’ite cleric and activist Mohammed al-Magdad.
A third activist, Saeed al-Nouri, was also arrested. Tajer said it was not clear what the men were being charged with.
Two of the detained men, Singace and Magdad, were among three activists held for several months in 2009 on charges. They were later pardoned by the king after weeks of protests and human rights criticism.
The Oct. 23 elections were not expected to meet Shi’ite opposition demands for more political participation. Many Shi’ites complain of discrimination in jobs and services, an accusation Manama denies.
Bahrain’s largest Shi’ite opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, plans to participate in the poll where it will field candidates for up to 24 of 40 slots. It currently holds 17 seats it won in 2006.
85 % of Bahrainis are Shia Muslims.