Attired in shrouds, Bahrainis are rallying countrywide in support of the island’s most senior Shia cleric, who has been stripped of his citizenship and is to be tried for charges widely denounced as politically-influenced.
Crowds of people on Sunday heeded a call by Bahrain’s Shia clergy to take to the streets across the nation in solidarity with Sheikh Isa Qassim.
Sheikh Qassim is the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s dissolved opposition bloc, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. He had his citizenship taken away in June last year over accusations of using his position to serve foreign interests and promote “sectarianism” and “violence.” He has denied the allegations.
Similar charges face Sheikh Hussein Mahrous and Mirza al-Dirazi, his office’s head and staffer, respectively. The trio are to be tried on May 7.
Security forces have been placed on alert across Bahrain on the eve of Qassim’s court session.
Hundreds of troops from Saudi Arabia have reportedly crossed into the island using King Fahd Causeway ahead of the trial.
Saudi and Emirati troops were sent over to Bahrain after the revolution to assist Manama’s supressive measures.
The anti-regime Coalition Youth of 14 Feb Revolution released a statement, warning of drastic measures. The movement said it considered any potential “tyrannous” court ruling against Qassem to be void.
Persecution of Qassim, it said, is in line with systematic targeting of the island’s Shia majority and rooted in political and tribal vendetta.
Governmental action against the leading clergyman is taking place within the framework of implementing US, British and Israeli agenda in Bahrain and the region, and comes in the wake of defeats suffered by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the statement said.
Qassim’s hometown of Diraz, on the island’s northwest, has been under a police blockade since the issuance of the citizenship decree against the cleric.
On Thursday, many Bahraini and international rights bodies, including the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights, Britain’s ARTICLE 19, wrote to the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union, urging them to take action versus the persecution of the cleric and the country’s Shias in general. They called the charges “politically-motivated” and demanded that Sheikh Qassim’s citizenship be restored.
Bahrain has been witnessing a popular uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa regime since February 2011, with anti-regime protesters taking to the streets on an almost daily basis. The demonstrators are demanding that the Al Khalifah family relinquish power and let a just system representing all Bahrainis be established.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others wounded or detained amid Manama’s crackdown on dissent and widespread discrimination against the country’s Shia majority.
Bahraini opposition al-Wafa’a Islamic Party on Saturday called on all Bahrainis to stage a unified march towards the blockaded area.
Sheikh Ali Salman, al-Wefaq’s jailed secretary general, said targeting Sheikh Qassim amounts to targeting the entire Shia community.