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Bahrain expels prominent religious cleric

Hussein al-Najati has been deported from Bahrain after he was accused of acting as an unauthorised representative of Iraqi cleric Ali al-Sistani
Demonstrators carry a portrait of expelled religious cleric Hussein al-Najati at a protest in Bahrain (AFP)

Bahrain has expelled prominent religious cleric Sheikh Hussein al-Najati, accusing him of unlawfully acting as a representative of Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

“Hussein al-Najati practiced unclear activities and did not coordinate with the Bahraini authorities” the Ministry of Interior said in a statement by the official Bahrain News Agency on Wednesday.

“We decided to deport Najati in accordance with the requirements of the laws and procedures of the Kingdom of Bahrain” it added.

The Ministry of Interior said they had “discovered he [Najati] was a representative of the Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani” and that he had “collected money and distributed it” in the name of Sistani, which “raised doubts about Najati’s identity and activities”.

He has been deported to Lebanon, where he was met by other exiled members of the Bahraini opposition.

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Hussein al-Najati is a well-known religious leader who has played a key role in an uprising that began in Bahrain on 14 February 2011, which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in peaceful protests to call for democracy.

Three days after demonstrators gathered in the capital Manama government forces broke up protests with teargas, birdshot and batons that left at least two dead and hundreds injured. At least 89 people have died and thousands more imprisoned as a result of protests since 2011, according to the International Federation of Human Rights, although the government disputes these figures.

The decision to expel Najati has been described as “encompassing legal errors and abuses” by the main opposition bloc al-Wefaq in a statement posted to their website.

Najati was stripped of his citizenship on national security grounds in November 2012, along with 30 other opposition figures, in a decision criticised by human rights groups.

“Depriving a Bahraini national of his citizenship, rendering him stateless and forcing him out of his own country is the path chosen by the Bahraini authorities to deal with dissenting voices” Hassiba Hadj, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International told Middle East Eye.

Bahrain is ruled by the al-Khalifas, a Sunni royal family, and the government has accused the Shiite majority opposition of being linked to Iran, an accusation that analysts say is a ploy to sectarianize coverage of the uprising.

“Authorities have sought to stoke sectarian tensions and keep up a narrative of supposed Iran and Hezbollah links to the opposition, tactics which have been re-emphasised by the decision to expel Najati”, Christopher Davidson, reader in Middle East Politics at Durham University, told MEE.

“The irony, of course, is that Najati as a follower of Sistani doesn’t actually embrace Iran’s ‘guardianship of the jurist’ theory” he added.

Iran follow the "guardianship of the jurist" principle, which places the most knowledgable person on Islamic law as the immovable head of state, and is not an idea advocated by Sistani and his followers.

The decision to expel Najati has drawn criticism from human-rights activists, who warn it could lead to more violence in Bahrain.

“If the government continues to lock up and exile moderates, the result will be more tension and more violence on the streets.” Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, told MEE.

Bahrain has seen a string of bombings in recent weeks, as clashes continue between the police and anti-government protestors. Two people died in an explosion near Manama last week and 13 policemen have been killed since protests began in 2011.

Reconciliation talks began last February but have been officially suspended since January, leaving Bahrain in a state of deep division. 

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