Bahrain police raid sit-in supporting Shia cleric, one killed

Bahrain police raid sit-in supporting Shia cleric, one killed
Bahrain police reportedly killed one protester after raiding a sit-in supporting a prominent Shia cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government earlier.
2 min read
23 May, 2017
Protesters staged a sit-in outside Qassim's residence in Diraz [AFP]

A Bahraini police raid on Tuesday on a sit-in by supporters of a leading Shia cleric put on trial in the Gulf state has left one protester dead, a rights group said.

The Britain-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy reported the "tragic death of a peaceful protester in the crackdown" in Diraz, the hometown of cleric Isa Qassim.

The interior ministry said on Tuesday it had "launched a security operation in the village of Diraz to preserve security and civil order as the site is a safe haven for fugitives".

Police arrested several people wanted by the authorities, the ministry said.

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.

On Sunday, a Bahraini court sentenced Qassim to a suspended one-year jail term for illegal fundraising and money laundering.

He was also stripped of citizenship last year, sparking the sit-in outside of his residence in Diraz. 

Sunni-ruled Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since security forces crushed Shia-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister in 2011.

Despite repeated calls from their Western allies, Bahrain's rulers have made no concessions to the Shia opposition and have intensified a crackdown on critics.

Bahraini authorities have accused Shia Iran of fomenting unrest in the kingdom. Tehran has consistently denied involvement.

The small Gulf state is a key regional ally of the United States and serves as home for its Fifth Fleet.

US President Donald Trump met with Bahrain's King Hamad in Saudi Arabia at the weekend during his first foreign trip since taking office.

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 on Sunday.

Activists and rights groups 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.

Agencies contributed to this report.