DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Two supporters of Bahrain's anti-government movement died in police custody Saturday after physical abuse at the hands of security officials, activists said.
The interior ministry said the body of Rashid Zakaria Hassan, 40, was found in a detention facility and a medical examiner determined that he died of complications from sickle-cell anemia.
Hassan was detained April 2 on charges of "inciting hatred, publishing false news, promoting sectarianism and calling for overthrowing of the regime" on social networking sites, the interior ministry said.
The opposition party, Al-Wefaq, said the death occurred in "mysterious circumstances."
The interior ministry said another detainee, Ali Isa Saqer, 31, died on Saturday in police custody after "creating chaos at the detention center."
Activists believe both men were subjected to physical and mental abuse and might have died as a result, said Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
"We believed they killed them in prison," Rajab said.
The interior ministry said Saqer was hurt while resisting guards' attempts to restrain him and he died in a hospital.
Saqer was detained March 13 for attempted murder of a policeman, it said.
Authorities also detained and beat a prominent human rights activist as they waged a continuing widespread crackdown on the opposition in this tiny Gulf nation, a Bahraini human rights group and his relatives said.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who formerly worked for international human rights organizations, was detained on Saturday in a pre-dawn raid. Al-Khawaja's daughter, Zainab, confirmed the arrest and said her father was taken from her house in a Shiite village outside the capital, Manama.
She told The Associated Press that armed and masked men, some wearing black police uniforms and carrying riot gear, stormed her house around 2 a.m. They beat her father unconscious before taking him into custody along with her husband and her brother-in-law, she added.
Al-Khawaja, 50, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of Frontline Defenders rights organization. He also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. His daughter said he stopped working for international organizations last year because of harassment by the authorities.
Al-Khawaja's son-in-law, Mohammed al-Maskati, who also is an activist, was in the house during Saturday's raid. He said armed men in black uniforms bound him with plastic handcuffs and forced him to lie on the ground face-down while agents beat him. One man kept a foot on his neck, he said.
Bahrain declared emergency rule last month and cracked down on protests by the country's Shiite majority against a Sunni monarchy, detaining hundreds of activists and anti-government protesters. At least 27 people have been killed since Feb. 14 when protests began in the strategically important Gulf kingdom, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people are being held by the Bahraini authorities since the unrest began last month.
Relatives and friends of those missing since the March 16 army raid on the protesters' encampment in Manama's Pearl Square have reported 430 names to Al-Wefaq, the statement said.
None of the detained activists and opposition leaders have been publicly charged with a crime or brought to trial. The authorities banned "all media from publishing data and news" legal proceedings against anybody being tried by the security courts, Bahrain's official news agency said in a brief report Friday.