Middle East

Bahrain protester 'killed in raid on sit-in' near Shia cleric's home

Bahrainis attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim on 20 June 2016, near his house in the village of Diraz Image copyright AFP
Image caption Last June, the authorities stripped Sheikh Isa Qassim of his Bahraini citizenship

A protester has been killed in a raid by Bahraini police on a sit-in near the home of the Sunni-ruled kingdom's most prominent Shia cleric, activists say.

Witnesses said officers had opened fire as they moved into the village of Diraz, where Sheikh Isa Qassim lives.

The interior ministry said a number of "fugitives" had been arrested, but did not comment on the reported death.

The raid comes two days after Sheikh Qassim was given a one-year suspended jail sentence for alleged corruption.

The cleric - who holds the religious rank of ayatollah - was also fined 100,000 Bahraini dinars ($265,000; £204,000) after being found guilty by a court of collecting funds illegally and money laundering.

Last June, Bahrain stripped Sheikh Qassim of his citizenship, accusing him of using his position to promote violence.

The decision left him stateless and at risk of deportation, prompting supporters to stage a sit-in outside his home. Police responded by surrounding Diraz and restricting access in recent months.

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On Tuesday, the interior ministry announced that a security operation had begun in Diraz to "maintain order and remove violations punishable under law that hinder the movement of citizens".

The sit-in had been "turned into a meeting ground for suspects wanted in security-related cases and fugitives", state media cited the ministry as saying.

Witnesses told AFP news agency that the raid triggered clashes, with officers opening fire at demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Activists say dozens have been killed in clashes between protesters and police since 2011

The UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said one protester was killed and identified him as environmental activist Mohammed Khadim Zain al-Din.

The pro-opposition Bahrain Mirror reported that Mr Zain al-Din had suffered gunshot wounds and posted a photograph showing the body of a man covered in blood.

Human Rights Watch condemned the raid. "The timing of this operation - two days after King Hamad's convivial meeting with President Trump - can hardly be a coincidence," the US-based group said in a statement.

At a summit in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Mr Trump told King Hamad said US relations with Bahrain would not be put under "strain" as they were during the Obama administration, which criticised the kingdom's human rights record.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Bahrain's King Hamad met US President Donald Trump at a summit in Riyadh on Sunday

Bahrain has been wracked by unrest since security forces crushed pro-democracy protests mainly led by Shia during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The authorities have launched a wider crackdown on dissent over the past year that has included banning the main Shia political grouping, Wefaq, which was accused of fomenting sectarian unrest, and jailing its leader Sheikh Ali Salman.

Wefaq helped lead the protests six years ago, which demanded greater political rights and an end to discrimination against Shia by the Sunni monarchy.

The following month, King Hamad brought in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states to end the demonstrations and restore order. The unrest left at least 30 civilians and five policemen dead.

Activists say dozens of people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces since then, while bomb attacks blamed on Iran-backed militants have killed a number of policemen.

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