Bahraini clerics have called on all the people of the Persian Gulf Arab country to show their solidarity with distinguished Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, saying that the people's unwavering support for him is the “religious duty” of all Muslims.
In a joint statement released on Monday, a day before the High Criminal Court holds Qassim's final trial session, Bahraini clerics said that “there is no doubt that defending senior cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim is in fact defending Islam and our country.”
Addressing all “fathers, mothers, boys and girls” of the island country, the statement said that the Bahrainis were "in the most difficult chapter of history," and called for the continuation of the campaign against the Al Khalifah regime, which “targets your religion and your source of emulation.”
The clerics urged the citizens to express their strong protests against the regime until their final victory, saying that “God is with them” and they “are able to defeat the despotic government.”
The statement called on the people who can travel to the northwestern village of Diraz, Sheikh Qassim’s native village, on Monday evening to convene around his house and pray that God save him from the threats posed by the “cowardly” ruling regime.
Thousands of people are now holding a protest rally in Diraz in support of the senior cleric with a sit-in reported outside Sheikh Qassim's house.
Bahraini police arrested several activists Monday, on the eve of the anticipated verdict in the trial of the leading Shia cleric, witnesses said.
Police in the kingdom mounted checkpoints outside Shia villages near Manama and made several arrests, witnesses and activists added.
The authorities did not announce any arrests.
The last trial session for Sheikh Qassim was scheduled in early February, but was postponed to February 26 amid fears of a surge in popular outrage. It was, however, postponed for a second time and was set to be held on March 14.
The Manama regime has leveled charges of “illegal fund collections, money laundering and helping terrorism” against Sheikh Qassim, who has strongly rejected them.
Bahraini authorities stripped the cleric of his citizenship on June 20, 2016. They later dissolved the Islamic Enlightenment Institution, founded by him, in addition to the opposition al-Risala Islamic Association. Sheikh Qassim, 77, is the spiritual leader of the country’s dissolved opposition bloc, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.
Bahrain's Public Prosecutor had earlier demanded capital punishment for Sheikh Qassim, his office staffer Mirza al-Dirazi and al-Wefaq’s Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Hussein al-Daihi.
Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the kingdom in mid-February 2011.
They are demanding that the Al Khalifah dynasty relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.
Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.
Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.