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Bahrain police fire on Shia protestors in cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim’s town; 1 killed, 50 held

The operation by Bahrain police follows a Sunday court decision giving Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim a year’s suspended prison sentence and seizing assets belonging to him and his ministry.

world Updated: May 23, 2017 18:18 IST
AP, Dubai
Bahrain,Sheikh Isa Qassim,Bahrain Shiite
At least one protester was killed and others were wounded, activists said, and authorities arrested 50 people.(AFP File Photo)

Bahrain police firing tear gas and shotguns entered a town on Tuesday morning where a months long sit-in has supported a prominent Shiite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government. At least one protester was killed and others were wounded, activists said, and authorities arrested 50 people.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry earlier wrote on Twitter that the operation targeting Diraz, home to Sheikh Isa Qassim, was to “maintain security and public order.” It called the area a “haven for wanted fugitives from justice.”

The Interior Ministry later said police arrested 50 people, including some who hid inside of Qassim’s home. It did not say whether Qassim was among those arrested, though it said some security forces were wounded in the raid.

“During the security operation, troops were able to remove all that disrupts the interest of citizens and hinders movement,” the ministry said in a statement. “Police will remain at the site to ensure people’s safety.”

Read more | Bahrain jails 36 Shias, strips them of citizenship

Activists shared mobile phone stills and videos showing youths throwing stones and climbing on an armoured personnel carrier. Gunfire could be heard as white smoke from tear gas hung in the air. Another video showed a bulldozer smashing through the area that once hosted the sit-in.

At least one protester was killed, said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Activists shared images of other protesters suffering what appeared to be birdshot wounds.

The operation follows a Sunday court decision giving Qassim a year’s suspended prison sentence and seizing assets belonging to him and his ministry. Two of his aides received similar sentences.

Police have besieged Qassim’s hometown of Diraz for months, tightly controlling access. He could be deported at any time after authorities stripped him of his citizenship last June over accusations that he fuelled extremism. His supporters deny the allegations and called his trial politically motivated.

Shiites and others took part in 2011 Arab Spring protests for greater rights from the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base. Bahrain put down the protests with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, Bahrain has seen low-level unrest. But the yearlong crackdown on dissent has raised the stakes, with local Shiite militant groups claiming some attacks. Bahrain long has accused Iran of aiding militants, something the Shiite power denies.

Read more | Bahrain bans online media as violence erupts between police and Shia protesters

Meanwhile, activists have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Independent news gathering on the island also has grown more difficult, with the government refusing to accredit two Associated Press journalists and others .

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met with U.S. President Donald Trump during a Sunday summit in Saudi Arabia. Already, Trump’s administration had approved a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed by the State Department under President Barack Obama.

“Our countries have a wonderful relationship together but there has been a little strain but there won’t be strain with this administration,” Trump said Sunday.

Activists and rights group warn Trump’s embrace of Bahrain only will fuel the crackdown.

“The timing of this operation — two days after King Hamad’s convivial meeting with President Trump — can hardly be a coincidence,” said Nicholas McGeehan, a senior Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch.

First Published: May 23, 2017 18:17 IST