8 December 2017 – Bahrain’s most senior Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim went under surgery this morning following his transfer to Ibn Al-Nafees hospital, as the Bahrain Interfaith and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said today.
The leading Shia cleric was transferred this morning at 7:30 am to Ibn al-Nafees Hospital to undergo urgent surgery. Upon his arrival, he went into surgery and he is expecting further operations.
The decision to transfer him was motivated by a lack of medical facilities at the Bahraini International Hospital where he was hospitalised, and to ensure the confidentiality of his treatment is fully respected.
His health conditions deteriorated sharply on 26 November 2017. Despite the doctor’s call for medical care, the authorities only allowed him to be examined by a doctor after three hours, and it took more than a week to transfer him to Bahrain International Hospital on 3 December.
Yesterday, on 7 December 2017, four UN Experts called on the Bahraini Government to ensure Sheikh Isa Qassim’s rights are fully respected. “We welcome the news that the Government of Bahrain has finally allowed Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim to go to hospital to access the life-saving treatment he requires, but we are concerned that he remains under guard,” the experts said in a joint statement. They also called for the end of his de facto house arrest, imposed since May 2017.
To date, Sheikh Isa Qassim’s hometown Duraz remains under a police blockade. Earlier this week, one of the protester arrested in May was officially charged with attempted murder by the public prosecutor.
Sheikh Maytham AlSalman of Bahrain Interfaith said “For over a year, the Bahraini government has intensified the reprisals against the country’s most senior religious leader Sheikh Isa Qassim. He was subjected to a series of violations, including the arbitrary revocation of his citizenship, his conviction on absurd politically motivated charges, and the murdering of peaceful protesters near his door steps placing him under house arrest. Most recently, he was deprived of adequate medical care. Bahrain’s stability can only be achieved by ensuring the human rights of all are fully respected, and by promoting an all inclusive dialogue process”.
Contradictory accounts on his house arrest:
The Bahraini embassies in the US and UK issued contradictory statements regarding the house arrest of Sheikh Isa Qassim. While the Bahrain Embassy in the US admitted to the New York Times that the senior Shia leader is under “house arrest”, the Bahrain Embassy in the UK stated “to be absolutely clear, Sheikh Isa Qassim is not under house arrest.”
This is, in fact, in dispute with the Bahrain Embassy in London’s own comments in an Associated Press report last week that Sheikh Qassim’s house arrest “has no bearing on his access to health care neither does his citizenship revocation.”
Background on his sentence & citizenship revocation:
In June 2016, the Minister of Interior rendered him stateless. The cleric is one of over 480 people stripped of Bahraini citizenship since 2012. His village, Duraz, has been under a continuous police blockade since June 2016.
Sheikh Isa Qassim has been under De Facto house arrest since May 2017. On 21 May 2017, just a day after US President Trump met Bahrain’s King Hamad in Saudi Arabia and told him there would be “no strain” between their two countries, Sheikh Isa Qassim was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence on charges of “money laundering” – the charges related solely to the Shia practice of Khums, a religious donation to senior clerics who redistribute the money for religious and charitable purposes. Sheikh Isa Qassim was unfairly tried in absentia. When BIRD and other NGOs analysed the the prosecution’s arguments, we found they resorted to language that could incite religious intolerance.
Two days after his sentence, on 23 May, police stormed into Duraz and, using lethal force, arrested over 280 protesters and unlawfully killed five. Three of the protesters killed were inside the home of Sheikh Isa Qassim. No one has been held accountable for their deaths.
Sheikh Isa Qassim is the most senior Shia cleric in Bahrain, holding the rank of Ayatollah. He is looked to as a spiritual leader by Bahraini Shia, who constitute an estimated 60% of the country’s citizen population. In 1972, he was elected as a member of the historic Constitutional Assembly, which wrote Bahrain’s first constitution.
Earlier this year, the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report found that Bahrain systematically discriminates against its Shia. Last year, five UN experts called on Bahrain to end its “persecution” of its Shia people.
Statement by 4 UN Experts released on 7 Dec 17: http://www.ohchr.org/en/
“Sheikh Isa Qassim’s house arrest has no bearing on his access to healthcare, neither does his citizenship revocation,” the embassy said in an emailed statement. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/
Bahrain Embassy in the UK statement on 30 November 17: N.B. “Notwithstanding his conviction and sentence, and to be absolutely clear, Sheikh Isa Qassim is not under house arrest” http://mailchi.mp/