The Bahraini authorities launched at the end of 2016 its attempts to disperse the Diraz sit-in, which had been staged since June 20, 2016 outside the house of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, following a decision revoking his nationality. The first attempt was a security raid launched December 21, 2016, which was followed by clashes between protesters and forces around Sheikh Qassim’s house, resulting in security forces withdrawing outside the town. Later, the Ministry of Interior claimed that it was pursuing some wanted individuals.
The authorities didn’t get enough of that failing attempt, but it went back at it again 1 month later on January 26, 2017. In this raid, armed civilians attacked protesters with live bullets.
These civilians affiliated to the Ministry of Interior raided the protesters, shot live bullets at them, arrested some. The attack led to the injury of young protester Mostafa Hamdan (18 years old), with a bullet in his head.
People around him tried to rescue Hamdan, transferred him to the International Hospital, which refused to admit him. They then had to transfer him to the Salmaniya Hospital, where he was placed under intensive care. Doctors’ attempts to rescue him from his coma failed, so did attempts to remove the bullet resting in his skull. Two months after his admittance to the hospital, Mostafa martyred, and thus becoming the first martyr to sacrifice himself in defense of Sheikh Isa Qassim.
Security authorities tried to deny its relation to this attack. A government-affiliated local newspaper attempted to imply that the forces that attacked Diraz, were “unknown armed forces”. However, the protesters detained during the raid, called their families later, telling them they are in the criminal investigations unit building.
Ayatollah Qassim’s Trial Verdict: 1 Year Suspended Prison Sentence
The Fourth High Criminal Court presided over by Judge Ali Al-Dhahrani, continued to hold its hearing in the trial of the Shiite majority spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, and head of his office, Sheikh Hussein Al-Mahrous, and an employee at his office, Mirza Al-Dirazi.
On its part, the Public Prosecution held the final hearing, stating its plea, which was an ISIS-like rhetoric, full of degrading expressions, hatred, and enmity towards the Shiites and their religious leader in Bahrain.
The trial that targeted the Shiite sect ended with an indictment. The verdict was a 1-year suspended prison sentence against Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, Sheikh Hussein Al-Mahrous, and Mirza Al-Dirazi. The verdict also ruled the confiscation of religious money that exceeded 3 million Bahraini dinars, and 2 properties registered in the name of Sheikh Isa Qassim. A fine of 1000 BD each was also ruled, linked to the accusation of gathering funds without authorization.
After the verdict against Ayatollah Qassim, the regime claimed that there is no longer any danger on the life of Ayatollah Qassim, and that there is no need for the Diraz protest to continue. The regime summoned heads of “Matams” in Diraz, asking them to put pressure on protesters to disperse their sit-in.
Two days after these pressure attempts, and one day after the meeting between the Bahraini King and US President Donald Trump in Riyadh, where the latter said that relations with Bahrain “will see no more tension”, the regime decided to put an end to this assembly. The heavily armed forces raided the sieged town. Protesters rallied to protest Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim with their bare bodies. A massacre was yet to come.
The night of the massacre on May 23, 2017, the Ministry of Interior held a press conference, in which is announced the names of 4 martyrs, who are Mohammad Ali Ibrahim Ahmad [AlSari] (28 years old), Mohammad Kadhim Mohsen Ali Nasser [Zeinuldien] (44 years old), Ahmad Jamil Ahmad Mohammad al-Asfour (34 years old), and Mohammad Ahmad Hassan Mohammad Hamdan (22 years old), Mostafa Hamdan’s brother. A 5th martyr’s identity was still under investigation, based on the Ministry’s statement.
After 3 days, the family of young man Mohammad Abdul Karim al-Ekri confirmed the martyrdom of their son during the security attack on protesters outside the house of Ayatollah Qassim. They stated that they identified his corpse at the military hospital.
Later, the authorities buried the martyrs in the absence of their families, in a violation of all laws and customs, after the families refused to bow to the demands of the authorities.
House Arrest of Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim
The regime didn’t get enough of forcibly ending the Diraz protest. Since the day of the massacre, it forced a house arrest on the Shiite majority spiritual leader, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim. In an attempt to announced its victory against an unarmed group of people, the regime raided Sheikh Qassim’s house. Pictures for security men started on the roof of the house, bragging their control, were circulated, while other photos showed the spread of armors, and checkpoints outside Sheikh Qassim’s house, preventing people from approaching. The Ministry of Interior also confiscated the house near Sheikh Qassim’s house, after it evacuated it.
7 Months of Pre-Trial Detention for Diraz Raid Detainees
The authorities announced that they detained 286 Bahrainis during the raid in Diraz. The raid also claimed the lives of 5 martyrs outside the house of Ayatollah Isa Qassim. The Public Prosecution later decided to keep most of them in custody for 6 months, pending investigation, after accusing them of assembly and attacking the police. The detainees were transferred to the Dry Dock Prison.
After the 6 months, the Public Prosecution decided to renew their detention for a month pending investigation. Lawyers informed about the case, said that the Public Prosecution intends to refer them all to trial in one case. The case is scheduled to see trial at the beginning of 2018.
Ayatollah Qassim’s Health Deterioration
80 Days after Sheikh Isa Qassim was placed under house arrest, activists and rights groups started to express concern regarding the deterioration of Sheikh Qassim’s health status. Two months after that, (November 27, 2017) the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Freedoms confirmed that Ayatollah Qassim suffers from a bleeding that requires urgent medical care. Media outlets and news agencies also circulated news about the deterioration of Sheikh Isa Qassim’s medical status. This resulted in the Bahraini authorities admitting for the first time, that Sheikh Isa Qassim is under house arrest. This came in an official statement by the Bahraini Embassy in Washington, who said that Qassim’s family rejected an offer to transfer him to the hospital in an ambulance.
Sheikh Maytham öAl-Salman on his part said that Ayatollah Qassim was not able to see a doctor for 500 days due to his house arrest, noting that he is suffering from the constant bleeding. He added that Sheikh Qassim’s weight is no more than 40 kg, meaning that his life is in danger.
Sheikh Qassim’s family insisted that they don’t want him to be transferred in a government ambulance, with armed policemen. On December 5, 2017, Qassim was transferred to the International Hospital, after which he was transferred to Ibn Al-Nafees hospital on December 9, 2017, where he underwent an urgent medical surgery. The next day, on December 10, Qassim was discharged from the hospital and returned home, again to stay under house arrest.