9 July 2018 – Today, Bahrain’s most prominent Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, arrived in London to receive medical treatment. He landed at 3:31pm at Heathrow Airport from Bahrain International Airport on Gulf Air flight GF003.
It appears that Sheikh Isa Qassim has been suffering from an “undisclosed illness” and recently fell and hurt himself.
Doctors from the Bahraini hospital Ibn Al-Nafees advised that Sheikh Isa Qassim be transferred abroad immediately to relevant hospitals with specialised care so that urgent measures can be taken to prevent his condition from deteriorating.
The doctors agreed that London is the most medically appropriate option for Sheikh Isa Qassim, although the precise hospital at which he will receive treatment remains unclear.
It appears that Sheikh Isa Qassim was issued a temporary passport to enable his visit, as he was stripped of his citizenship on 20 June 2016.
Commenting, the Advocacy Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) Sayed Alwadaei said: “The arrival of Sheikh Isa Qassim to London follows a series of violations of his rights. In the last two years, Bahraini authorities have rendered him stateless, placed him under house arrest and denied him access to necessary medical treatment. In May 2017, five people from his village were killed at his doorstep. Although Sheikh Isa Qassim now appears to be receiving appropriate medical care, the ordeal he has suffered remains concerning and cannot be forgotten”.
- 20 June 2016: The Bahraini Government announced that it had unilaterally decided to revoke the citizenship of Sheikh Isa Qassim. In response, hundreds of demonstrators began a peaceful sit-in around Sheikh Isa Qassim’s home in the village of Duraz. The cleric is one of 738 people stripped of Bahraini citizenship since 2012, according to BIRD’s research.
- July 2016: Following Sheikh Isa Qassim’s denaturalisation, the Public Prosecution charged Sheikh Isa Qassim with alleged illegal fundraising and money laundering. The charges relate solely to the Shia religious practice of khums, a religious donation to senior clerics who redistribute the money for religious and charitable purposes.
- Since June 2016, Duraz has been under a continuous police blockade. Authorities have cut internet access and have closed most of the roads leading into and out of the village.
- 16 August 2016: Five UN experts urged Bahrain to end its “persecution” of its Shia people.
- Since May 2017, Sheikh Isa Qassim has been under a de facto house arrest.
- 21 May 2017: Sheikh Isa Qassim was sentenced in absentia to a one-year suspended sentence and fined 100,000 Bahraini Dinars two days after US President Trump met Bahrain’s King Hamad in Saudi Arabia and told him there would be “no strain” between their two countries.
- 23 May 2017: The Bahraini authorities brutally crushed the peaceful sit-in initiated by Sheikh Isa Qassim’s followers during a ‘security operation’ using overwhelming force.
- During this operation, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described this event as one of the “deadliest” operations since Bahrain’s uprising began in 2011, 286 protesters were arrested, tens were injured and five were unlawfully killed. No one has been held accountable for their deaths.
- 29 January 2018: Bahrain’s Supreme Court upheld Sheikh Isa Qassim’s sentence.
- Despite Sheikh Isa Qassim’s health deteriorating sharply in the last year, he has repeatedly been denied access to medical treatment. Doctors independent to the Bahraini government were allowed to visit the cleric at his home, due to his family’s insistence to the police. They diagnosed him with a groin hernia requiring emergency operation. He also suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and a form of heart disease.
- 4 December 2017: Sheikh Isa Qassim was hospitalised.
- 7 December 2017: Six UN experts urged the Bahraini government to “allow Mr. Qassim to receive visitors freely, to ensure that medical staff can treat him without pressure of any kind, and to ensure that he can continue to access the medicines he needs”.
- 8 December 2017: Sheikh Isa Qassim underwent surgery.
- 31 January 2018: Sheikh Isa Qassim returned to the hospital to undergo a hernia surgery. His operation was delayed by almost two weeks by authorities.