Police in Bahrain have killed a protester at a sit-in to support a Shiite cleric. Witnesses say multiple people were wounded when officers shot at demonstrators who threw stones and Molotov cocktails in response.
On Tuesday, 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 Shiite cleric Isa Qassim. Dissidents circulated photographs showing the body of a man covered in blood.
Authorities didn't comment on the killing, but did acknowledge arresting several dissidents in Diraz. The Interior Ministry reported that police carried out the operation "to impose security and general order after the area became a haven for people wanted in security cases and fugitives from justice."
The protests began after Bahrain's government gave the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Isa Qassim a one-year suspended prison sentence and ordered assets seized on what protesters say are trumped-up charges of money laundering and campaign finance violations. Last year, the monarchy had stripped Qassim of his citizenship, which has left him open to immediate and arbitrary deportation.
Human Rights Watch accuses the government of suppressing dissent: "Yet again the architects of bloody destabilizing violence in Bahrain appear to be the Al Khalifa government, and the timing of this operation - two days after King Hamad's convivial meeting with President Trump - can hardly be a coincidence."
'A wonderful relationship'
Ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa monarchy but home to a significant, stifled Shiite minority, Bahrain hosts a US naval base and is constructing another for British forces. In neighboring Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Donald Trump promised Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa
Al Khalifa that their nations would resume their previously cozy relations after President Barack Obama had lightly rapped the US's longtime Gulf ally for its human rights record.
"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. For one example, his government has approved the multibillion-dollar sale of fighter jets to Bahrain without imposing rights conditions as Obama's State Department had.
Aided by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in 2011 Bahrain crushed protests by Shiites who sought recognition, rights and representation. Officials deny deploying systematic brutality and accuse elements of the opposition of seeking to overthrow the government by force with help from Iran.
As the assault continues, the government has refused to accredit some journalists and arrested a news agency photographer and social media activist. In January, rights groups protested the monarchy's unannounced executions of three men.
mkg/mz (Reuters, AFP, AP)