Dubai: At least five people were killed and scores other injured when regime forces opened fire on a protesters holding a sit-in outside the home of a highly revered pro-democracy religious figure in Bahrain on Tuesday.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry admitted the death of five people in raids targeting Diraz, home to Sheikh Isa Qassim and a long-running sit-in supporting him.
Regime forces raided the home of Sheikh Issa Qassim, the spiritual leader of the country’s Shia majority in the village, arresting everyone inside the house. It is not yet clear whether Sheikh Qassim himself is among the detainees.
Over 280 people were detained during the raid, according to the ministry.
Activists shared photographs and videos showing youths throwing stones and climbing on an armoured personnel carrier.
Gunfire could be heard in one video 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.
Security forces fired live bullets at protesters and teargas into the house of the prominent cleric.
Tuesddays operation followed 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.
The village has been a scene of protests since last June, when authorities stripped the cleric of his citizenship after he endorsed the pro-democracy movement seeking elections in the tightly controlled autocratic country that has the backing of the West and its regional allies.
Sheikh could be deported at any time after authorities stripped him of his citizenship last June over his support for the movement.
A mass uprising erupted agains Al-Khalifa regime in 2011 Arab Spring but Bahrain put down the protests with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.
Since 2011 Bahrain has seen low-level unrest. But a yearlong government crackdown on dissent has raised the stakes, with an increasing number of youth going underground.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa met with US 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.
Amnesty condemns Bahrain violent crackdown
Meanwhile, Amnesty International has slammed the Manama regime’s excessive use of force against protesters, stressing that the village has been under siege for over 11 months.
“Today’s disturbing developments again show the consequences of rampant impunity enjoyed by the security forces. There must be a prompt, independent investigation and those responsible for unlawful killing and other arbitrary or abusive force must be prosecuted. The authorities must rein in the security forces, order that they strictly comply with international standards on police use of force, and ensure the right to peaceful protest is protected,” said Amnesty’s Director of Campaigns Samah Hadid.
“Our information indicates that police attacked what started out as a peaceful demonstration. International standards require that law enforcement must not use lethal force unless unavoidable to protect against a threat to life or risk of serious injury,” she added.
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