Bahrain’s detained Shiite cleric ‘in danger’
BEIRUT - The health of Bahrain's top Shiite cleric and leading figure in the kingdom's opposition movement, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, has deteriorated and his life is in danger, rights groups said Thursday.
"I issue a call: Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim is in danger," said Sheikh Maytham Salman of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Interfaith Center, referring to Qassim's deteriorating health.
Qassim, who is in his late 70s and was a leader of 2011 protests in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, has been under de facto house arrest since a 2016 court order revoking his citizenship on charges including "serving foreign interests".
Qassim's family said earlier this week that the elderly sheikh was in urgent need of medical attention. The authorities have insisted on sending a medical team of their choice, a relative said.
Bahrain's justice ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
"We are looking at a slow murder," Salman said at a news conference in Beirut. "What (Qassim) needs is medical treatment and freedom, which are natural rights enshrined in law and the constitution."
Ruled for more than 200 years by the Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain is home to a Shiite majority that has long complained of political marginalisation.
The archipelago, located between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, has been rocked by protests demanding an elected government since 2011.
Bahraini authorities have accused Iran of backing the protests and of aiming to overthrow the government. Tehran denies any involvement.
Over the past six years, Bahraini authorities have tightened their grip on all dissent, jailing dozens of high-profile clerics and activists and disbanding both religious and secular opposition groups.
While Qassim has not made public the details of his condition, London-based rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said he had high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
He has also been diagnosed with a groin hernia requiring urgent surgery, according to the institute.