Bahrain: Bahrain: One human rights defender among five killed during violent crackdown on peaceful sit-in in Duraz


At least five people were killed, hundreds of protesters were injured and at least 286 were arrested in the village of Duraz in Bahrain on 23 May 2017, following a violent crackdown and police raids on the home of a prominent cleric and surrounding homes. One human rights defender, Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen, an environmental activist, was killed during the clampdown on the peaceful sit-in. Among the injured, eight are in critical condition in the hospital.

Mohsen, who is the Deputy President of a local chapter of Friends of the Environment, was fatally shot in the head by security forces, who used shotguns and tear guns against mostly peaceful protestors surrounding the home of Sheikh Issa Qassim, the top cleric in the country. Hundreds of security vehicles and even helicopters were reportedly used to attack protestors, who gathered early in the morning following calls to protect Qassim. The sit-in first began when Qassim’s citizenship was revoked on 20 June 2016 and charges were filed against him.

On the morning of 23 May, protests began peacefully after Qassim was handed a one-year suspended sentence on 21 May on charges related to alleged money laundering, along with a fine of 100,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. USD$265,000.) The Ministry of Interior (MOI) said it arrested 50 people from Qassim’s home, with Bahrain’s official television announcing that 286 people had been arrested in Duraz on 23 May. Many homes were raided.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) reported more than 100 injured, mostly with bird shot pellets, among the causalities it was able to document before the Internet was shut down.  Some people are in critical condition after being shot. Others were reportedly beaten. People fear going to the hospital where they might be arrested, which makes documentation of specific numbers difficult. The general hospital, Salmaniya, continues to be militarised. The MOI also issued orders to all hospitals instructing them not to treat any protest-related injuries without the presence of an MOI officer. In addition, doctors and medics are at risk for treating protestors.

On 26 January 2017, 18-year-old Mustafa Hamdan was shot in the head with live ammunition during the sit-in in Duraz. The medic who attempted to treat him on the street was subsequently arrested. After arriving at a private hospital he was refused treatment due to the MOI’s instructions; and by the time he was taken to Salmaniya, he was declared brain dead. He died on 24 March.

Duraz has been blockaded since June 2016, when the peaceful sit-in began after the authorities revoked Qassim’s citizenship; and the Internet in the area has been heavily restricted. Many people have been questioned about their activities in Duraz on charges of “illegal gathering”, including human rights defenders working for BCHR.

The sentencing of Qassim on Sunday coincided with a meeting between United States President Donald Trump and Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, Trump said, "Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won't be strain with this administration."

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the high praise given to Bahraini authorities by the US President effectively gives them the green light to carry on with human rights violations, and escalate them with no risk of repercussions from foreign allies. This includes keeping prominent human rights defenders like Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, GCHR’s Founding Directors, in prison.

Rajab, who remains in custody in the hospital, had two cases related to his human rights activities in court last week, which were postponed to 30 May and 14 June. He is also the President of BCHR.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Carry out an independent investigation of the killing of human rights defender Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen and other victims;
  2. Cease using violence, including deadly force, on peaceful protestors; and
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.