Bahrain's Crackdown on Shiite Dissent


The tiny Gulf state of Bahrain was rocked by 2011 protests by Shiites calling for reforms from their Sunni rulers, who unleashed an ongoing backlash of repression.

The authorities reject charges of discrimination against Shiites, saying they are only acting against violent groups being stoked by regional Shiite power, Iran.

Here is a timeline:

- Arab Spring repressed -

Anti-regime and pro-democracy demonstrations start in February 2011 amid the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

After three days of protests, riot police charge demonstrators occupying the capital's Pearl Square in a pre-dawn raid on February 17 that leaves four people dead and scores wounded.

As the police and army withdraw from the square two days later, thousands of protesters return.

The demonstrations escalate and in March Saudi Arabia sends in 1,000 troops and the United Arab Emirates 500 police to help the regime restore order.

On March 16 the Pearl Square protest camp is cleared in another deadly security force raid.

Bloody protests resume in June, as soon as a state of emergency enacted in March is lifted, with unrest notably in Shiite villages around Manama. They are violently repressed.

- Nationality withdrawn -

In November 2012, 31 Shiite activists, including two former parliamentarians, are stripped of their nationality for breaching state security.

In January 2013 the appeals court confirms jail terms for 13 opposition leaders over charges of plotting to overthrow the monarchy.

Seven get life sentences including prominent activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who also holds Danish nationality.

In August King Hamad decrees stiffer penalties for "terror acts."

- Tehran blamed -

In January 2014 Bahrain accuses the Iranian regime's elite Revolutionary Guards of training opposition militants in the use of explosives to carry out attacks. It announces the arrest of suspects.

It severs diplomatic ties with Iran two years later amid tensions between Riyadh and Tehran over Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Also in January 2016 Bahrain says it has dismantled an Iran-linked "terror" cell allegedly connected to the Revolutionary Guards and Lebanon's Tehran-backed Hezbollah militia. The interior ministry says the cell was planning a "series of dangerous bombings" in the kingdom.

Bahrain has since announced it has dismantled several Shiite "terror" cells.

- Opposition outlawed -

In July 2016 Bahrain's judiciary dissolves the leading opposition party Al-Wefaq over various accusations including of "harbouring terrorism", and orders the seizure of its funds.

In May 2017 the secular opposition movement Al-Waad is also dissolved over allegations of links to terrorists.

- Dissent crushed -

In 2017 a court sentences the most senior Shiite figure in Bahrain, revered cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, to a suspended one-year jail term for illegal fundraising and money laundering.

He had been under house arrest since 2016 and stripped of his citizenship. The regime provides the ageing ayatollah with a temporary passport in July 2018 to travel to London for medical treatment.

In June 2018 an appeals court upholds a five-year jail sentence against high-profile activist Nabeel Rajab, one of the key figures in the 2011 demonstrations, on charges of criticism on social media of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Rajab was already serving a two-year sentence for "disseminating rumours and false information" in interviews critical of the government.

And in November 2018 the head of Al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, is sentenced to life in prison on charges of spying for Qatar, which Bahrain has boycotted -- following the lead of Saudi Arabia -- because of alleged ties to Iran and radical Islamist groups.

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