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Bahrain's calculated campaign of intimidation

Bahraini activists and locals describe midnight arrests, disappearances, beatings at checkpoints, and denial of medical care – all aimed at deflating the country's pro-democracy protest movement.

In this photo taken during a visit organized by Bahrain's Interior Ministry, Bahrain police check a driver's identification at a checkpoint in the capital of Manama, Bahrain, on March 28.

Hasan Jamali/AP

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With a wave of midnight arrests, checkpoints, and targeting of wounded protesters, Bahrain's Sunni rulers have launched what appears to be a calculated campaign to intimidate supporters of the pro-democracy protest movement that began here in February.

Security forces have directed much of the abuse – which includes midnight arrests, checkpoints, and targeting of wounded protesters – toward Bahrain’s majority Shiite population, instilling fear and raising sectarian tensions in the tiny kingdom.

“I don’t want to go anywhere now. I’ll stay in my home because there is no safety,” says Ibrahim, a university student who says he was recently beaten and held for 36 hours at a checkpoint, and has a deformed left ear and bruises elsewhere to prove it. He asked that his last name be withheld for his own safety.

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“While they were beating us, they said, ‘Where is your Mahdi now? Why isn’t he coming to save you?’ ” says Ibrahim, referring to a messianic figure in Shiite Islam. “They made us scream 'Mahdi.' They put my face in the ground, and told me to speak. Then they kicked dust in my mouth.”

What was their crime?

“We are Shiite,” says Ibrahim. “They want to remove all Shia from Bahrain.”

In a speech to parliament Tuesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed al-Khalifa said the authorities were not targeting Shiites, but were imposing law and order. Bahrain is operating under emergency law, put in place last month.

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