Rights groups condemn police violence in Diraz

21 December 2016 – Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), and the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) condemn the violence that occurred earlier this morning when Bahraini security forces raided houses and attacked protesters around the residence of Sheikh Isa Qassim.

Bahraini security forces began lining the streets around prominent religious cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house on the morning of 21 December 2016. Protesters around Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house were alerted to the presence of the security forces and became fearful that the government may move in to arrest Sheikh Isa Qassim. Security forces then moved in on the protesters. BIRD and ADHRB spoke to eyewitnesses in Diraz who indicated that there were approximately a dozen police vehicles. Videos show the security forces firing tear gas at the protesters. Since these clashes occurred, there have been two reported arrests of protestors; one of these is a minor. Additionally, reports indicate that at least one protester was injured when security forces fired a tear gas canister. Protests then erupted in some villages, including Abu Saibah, Sitra, and Aldaih.

“Bahrain is gambling with its stability and plays with fire by raiding houses and attacking protesters,” said BIRD Director of Advocacy Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei. “Attacking protesters this morning after six months of siege on the village shows that the government is continuing to veer further down their path of repression.”

The Ministry of Interior in Bahrain confirmed on their Twitter account that they have conducted some arrests. Witnesses to the violence this morning have shared photos with ADHRB & BIRD of damaged houses from reported police raids.

Sheikh Isa Qassim is the most prominent spiritual Shia cleric in Bahrain. The Government of Bahrain arbitrarily revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship on 20 June 2016 and has since brought charges against him for money laundering. These charges are in relation to the Shia-specific practice of khums, a charitable donation given by individuals to the community. Since his citizenship revocation in June, protesters have participated in a peaceful sit-in around the residence.

“Without serious pressure from Bahrain’s allies, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, Bahrain will continue its repressive campaign against peaceful protesters,” said ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Despite promises of reform after government violence that took place in the 2011 pro-democracy movement, the Government of Bahrain continues to utilize violence against protesters.”