On 20 June 2016, the Government of Bahrain revoked the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim, one of Bahrain’s most prominent Shia clerics. Within an hour of this announcement, thousands of Bahrainis gathered in the streets of Diraz surrounding Sheikh Isa’s home. The amount of people who gathered in the streets has not be seen since the 2011 pro-democracy protests. It has now been over one week, and the sit-in continues as Bahrainis vow to stand in solidarity with Sheikh Isa and his family. The President of the Bahrain Shia Clerical Council, Sayed Majeed al-Mishal, stated that they “do not want a homeland without Sheikh Isa Qassim.”
As this round-the-clock sit-in continues, protesters from the ground have reported that Bahraini security forces are preparing to step in to disperse the crowds. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has received reports and pictures from Bahrainis indicating that police forces have surrounded Diraz. Such an act would infringe upon the individuals’ internationally sanctioned right to participate in a peaceful assembly.
The situation in Diraz is a direct result of the series of repressive actions by the Bahraini government targeting civil society. In the past three weeks, Bahrain has witnessed unrelenting deterioration. On 30 May, the Government of Bahrain increased the sentence of Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary-General of al-Wefaq, from four to nine years on appeal. Bahraini authorities forced human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja into exile at the beginning of June. On 12 June, the Government of Bahrain imposed travel bans on at least 10 human rights activists and family members of victims of abuse, thereby preventing them from engaging with the international community. On 13 June, the government re-arrested human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, on charges relating to his free expression. On 14 June, the Ministry of Justice suspended Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition party in Bahrain. Over the past two weeks, the government has targeted with intimidation almost a dozen of the country’s top Shia clerics, calling them in for questioning.
In contrast to the government’s rhetoric of reform and dialogue, Bahrain authorities continue to imprison, denaturalize, and exile activists, human rights defenders, and any individual who speaks out. Citizenship revocation is one of the government’s growing tactics to stifle civil society. In 2015, the Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) reported 208 individuals had their citizenship revoked. This list included journalist, bloggers, human rights defenders, and lawyers. ADHRB has recorded at least 40 individuals who have had their citizenship revoked in 2016 thus far. Over the weekend, Bahraini authorities deported human rights lawyer Taimoor Karimi, who Bahraini courts made stateless in 2012.
Bahrainis from all backgrounds have gathered in Diraz to protest the government’s suppression and to show solidarity with Sheikh Isa. Authorities have maintained roadblocks around Diraz. Recent reports from the ground indicate authorities are preventing demonstrators from accessing food. The international community must condemn the Bahraini government’s violations of human rights and recent actions to stifle civil society.
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Mobashra Tazamal is an Advocacy Fellow at ADHRB.