Hundreds of Bahraini youths shouting anti-government slogans took to the streets in Bahrain despite a heavy police presence Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of an uprising calling for political change in the tiny island kingdom.
The 2011 protests in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, were the largest of the Arab Spring wave of demonstrations to rock the Gulf Arab states. They were driven by the country’s Shiite majority and demanded greater political rights from the Sunni-led monarchy.
Authorities crushed the initial protests after allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent reinforcements. Many government opponents and rights activists remain behind bars, and the site that was the focal point for the protests is still sealed off by security forces.
The government committed to putting in place a number of reforms in the wake of the unrest, but low-level unrest continues, particularly in Shiite communities outside the capital, Manama. Small groups of activists frequently clash with riot police and bombs occasionally target security forces.
Amnesty International said last week that hopes for progress on human rights and holding authorities to account for alleged abuses have faded over the past five years. It released a scathing report last year saying government reforms had failed to end serious violations of human rights — findings the government said had “significant shortcomings” and glossed over new institutional and legal measures put in place since the uprising.
On Sunday, demonstrators in the largely Shiite community of Sitra, south of the capital, attempted to march onto a nearby highway but were turned back by police firing tear gas, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene.
Protesters carried posters of Manama’s Pearl Square, the epicenter of the 2011 protests, while others held aloft portraits of jailed opposition figures. Some of the demonstrators hurled petrol bombs and paint bombs at police, and blocked roads to their communities with iron rods and trash to keep security forces out.
Witnesses reported clashes with police in other areas too.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement emailed Sunday that several minors “who were manipulated into participating in riots and acts of vandalism” were arrested the previous day. Under questioning, those detained said they were involved in disrupting security, attacking police vehicles, committing arson and blocking roads, according to the statement. Their parents have been summoned and ordered to bring their children before juvenile prosecutors.
The protest anniversary coincides with celebrations marking the 2001 referendum on the country’s National Action Charter, which promised earlier reforms.
In a statement Sunday, the government said it “remains fully committed to delivering sustainable progress, through stable and meaningful democratic development.” But it warned that progress cannot be impeded by “groupings seeking to reject all attempts at political advance in favor of narrow, short-term interests.”