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The New Arab

Bahrain 'systematically targeting Shia clerics'

Bahrain has arrested activists and human rights defenders [AFP]

Date of publication: 24 August, 2016

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Human Rights Watch accused Bahraini authorities of systematically targeting Shia clerics and violating their rights to freedom of assembly, in a statement published Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused Bahraini authorities of systematically targeting Shia clerics and violating their rights to freedom of assembly following a decision to strip the country's top Shia cleric of his nationality.

The New York-based human rights group said in a statement that at least 56 other clerics may have been questioned or charged by authorities in the Gulf island nation since June.

Four clerics told Human Rights Watch they were charged with illegally gathering after taking part in a sit-in for Sheikh Isa Qassim, who was stripped of his nationality in June on allegations he encouraged sectarianism and violence.

"Now that the Bahraini authorities have begun to run out of human rights defenders and political activists to jail, silence, or exile, they are moving on to the Shia community's religious leaders," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Bahrain appears to be willfully and recklessly fanning the flames of sectarianism, while simultaneously taking moderate voices out of play."

The decision to revoke Qassim's citizenship was followed by the suspension of Bahrain's main Shia opposition group, al-Wefaq, whose political chief Sheikh Ali Salman is serving a nine-year jail term on charge of inciting violence.

Last week, a UN panel of independent human rights experts called on Bahrain to end its "prosecution of Shias".

"The intensified wave of arrests, detentions, summons, interrogations and criminal charges brought against numerous Shia religious clerics and singers, human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents is having a chilling effect on fundamental human rights," the human rights experts said.

"Shias are clearly being targeted on the basis of their religion," the UN experts added.

Home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since security forces crushed 2011 protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Protesters still frequently clash with police in Shia villages outside the capital, with rights groups repeatedly raising concern over the response of the authorities.

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