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Bahrain to try top Shia cleric early next month: Source

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Bahraini Shia clerics attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of Sheikh Issa Qassim (portrait), on June 20, 2016 near his house in the village of Diraz. ©AFP

Bahraini Shia cleric Sheikh Issa Qassim will reportedly go on trial in August this time for alleged “money laundering” amid simmering anger in the country against a Manama decision to strip him of his citizenship.

The public prosecutor in Bahrain said Saturday that a cleric will go on trial early next month on charges of “illegal fund collections and money laundering,” without providing an exact date.

The head of public prosecution, Ahmed al-Dosari, did not provide the name of the defendant, but a source familiar with the case said the cleric was Sheikh Qassim, the spiritual leader of majority Shia Muslims in Bahrain, the Reuters reported.

Sheikh Qassim has strongly rejected the charges brought against him.

Less than a month ago, authorities in Manama revoked the nationality of Sheikh Qassim, accusing him of seeking the “creation of a sectarian environment” through his connections with foreign powers.

This came about a week after Bahrain suspended the activities of the main Shia opposition group al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, whose secretary general, Sheikh Ali Salman, himself a prominent Shia cleric, has been in prison since December 2014.

The Al Khalifah regime also dissolved opposition al-Risala Islamic Association and Islamic Enlightenment Institution, founded by Sheikh Qassim.

The move, seen as part of a wider clampdown on dissent, has sparked angry protest rallies across the Persian Gulf kingdom over the weeks.

Bahraini demonstrators attend a protest against the revocation of the citizenship of top Shia cleric Sheikh Issa Qassim, on June 20, 2016 near his house in the village of Diraz. ©AFP

The United Nations and several human rights bodies have also slammed the Bahraini regime for stripping Sheikh Qassim of his citizenship as well as its widespread crackdown on opposition and political activists.

Bahraini demonstrators have held almost daily vigils in solidarity with Sheikh Qassim outside his house in the village of Diraz, prompting regime forces to stay on high alert in the area.

Since early 2011, Bahrain has been the scene of an uprising against the ruling Al Khalifah family. People in the Shia-majority country complain of discrimination and seek the establishment of democracy.

Manama now fears that the case of Sheikh Qassim could trigger more anti-regime demonstrations.

Shortly after repealing Sheikh Qassim’s citizenship, the Bahraini military surrounded his native village with checkpoints, stopping people from entering it.

Other reports say Manama has disabled internet connections and cellular coverage in Diraz.

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