2016: Diraz Conflict: An Open-Ended Protest, An Open-Ended Siege (Timeline)
2017-01-06 - 2:28 am
Bahrain Mirror: For over half a year, since June 20, 2016, Bahraini security authorities overpowered a full siege on the Bahraini town of Diraz, home to the prominent Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim.
All entrances and roads leading to the town were blocked. Entry and exit from the town were prevented even on foot, unless through a checkpoint. With cement barriers, even the sides of some streets were blocked making it impossible to have any passageway into the town. This has been the hardest and longest siege ever enforced on a Bahraini town, in the history of the country.
The siege, in which dozens of security vehicles are used, was imposed as soon as thousands of citizens gathered outside the house of the Bahraini Shia spiritual leader Sheikh Isa Qassim, after authorities announced revoking his nationality. Many protests were suppressed in the country, especially that the authorities have not allowed one single legal protest to be staged for over two years. The authorities; however, met an open-ended Diraz protest, with an open-ended Diraz siege.
International news agencies described the Diraz sit-in as a reflection of the severe unrest in Bahrain. Despite the ban and siege, people still flock heavily to take part in the protest, led by the Shiite clergy. Anger dominated the streets, people wore their shrouds, and were ready for the worst that may come.
However, the Bahraini government, which launched sudden, rash, and consecutive blows against the opposition at that time, suddenly changed its approach and decided to deal with the Diraz frustration differently to save time. It did not crackdown on the protest, nor did it target Sheikh Isa Qassim, yet. At a time when the political battle seems long lasting, the siege remains open-ended.
The protest, which was launched in the holy month of Ramadan, continued throughout Muharram, where protesters commemorated Ashura outside the house of Sheikh Isa Qassim on the street that became an open sit-in site. Protesters also took advantage of the opportunity to stage mass protests in Diraz every Friday. These protesters called against sectarian persecution, ongoing normalization between the Bahraini government and Israel, among other issues.
Throughout the aforementioned period to date, the authorities have banned the performance of Friday prayers in the Imam al-Sadiq Mosque in Diraz; where the largest congregational Friday prayers performed by Shiites in Bahrain, which was before led by Sheikh Isa Qassim. Authorities demanded that the Friday prayers preacher, Sheikh Mohammad Sanqour, be replaced to allow the performance of the prayers, before detaining Sheikh Sanqour for one day. After the residents attempted to break the ban and attend Friday prayers, some were detained, among them an elderly and a child, while others were referred to court.
The Bahraini government's approach in dealing with this event exceeded a mere siege. The government started arresting and trying Shiite clerics, who either led, attended the Diraz protest, or even voiced solidarity with Sheikh Isa Qassim. Head of the Ulama Islamic Council, Sayed Majeed Mashaal was arrested, and sentenced to 2 years and a half in prison. Dozens of other Shiite clerics and preachers were arrested and detained; this time after investigations. A number of these clerics are still serving prison sentences for participating in the Diraz protest.
Dr. Taha al-Dirazi, Khalil Marzouq, Ibrahim al-Damastani, and other figures were interrogated for the same reason. Director Yasser Nasser was sentenced to one year in prison over charges of taking part in the Diraz protest.
In a one-time statement, which was issued overdue, the Bahraini Interior Ministry said its siege on Diraz was due to "illegal assemblies in the town". However, instead of ending this assembly, the authorities decided to isolate Diraz from the outside world by all means possible.
Every day, cars line up over more than a kilometer, waiting for permission to enter or exit. People were prevented from entering Diraz to visit their relatives during Eid, unless authorized by the police department! As the academic year began, students of Diraz had to pass by military armored vehicles to arrive to their schools. Police forces banned students from going walking to school after they started arriving very late to class due to the staged obstacles.
Families postponed marriages, shops closed in Diraz after it suffered significant losses. The mail post refused to deliver mail to people residing in Diraz, believing it is an "unsafe area", while authorities even banned entry of food and water into the town.
The siege intensifies with each session of Sheikh Issa Qassem's trial, to the extent that foreign workers were banned entry to the town.
The siege on Diraz was also extended to the Internet. For over half a year, the authorities continued to cut off the Internet in Diraz and neighboring areas every evening, from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am. This is the protest's peak time. A media outlet dubbed this step "an Internet war launched on Diraz", especially after technical tests conducted by Bahrain Watch organization, proved that the cut was deliberate, and that the Bahraini authorities is behind it.
With the end of the year, the situation came close to entering a dangerous turn when the authorities suddenly raided Diraz in the morning of December 21, 2016, with a huge number of security armored vehicles, which stationed near Sheikh Isa Qassim's house. The people of Diraz took to the streets while shouting slogans, to confront the security forces. The forces withdrew from the area after arresting individuals it claimed were wanted.
The event still echoes in the international media, which sees that the house of Shiite spiritual leader has become a new center for protests, clashes, and confrontations.
Protesters returned to the sit-in arena and performed their noon prayers. Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah condemned this incident, believing that what happened in Diraz stands evidence that the Bahraini authorities insist on "committing follies".
Sayed Nasrallah was one of the international figures who followed up and talked about the Diraz protest and siege throughout the half a year of its age. In more than one stance, he praised the Bahraini protesters staging their sit-in outside the house of Ayatollah Qassim.
On a different level, leaked snapshots of a "Whatsapp" conversation showed deputy head of Bahrain's Consultative Council, Jamal Fakhro, mocking and belittling the suffering of the besieged people in Diraz, by sending them a complimentary photo "gift" of a girl model.
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