Bahrain denies hampering treatment for top Shiite cleric


Dubai (AFP)

Bahrain's government on Friday denied hampering medical care for top Shiite cleric Isa Qassim, after the key opposition figure's family refused state-sanctioned treatment as fears mounted over his deteriorating health.

The Ministry of Health released a statement saying a team of two doctors it sent to Diraz, a suburb of the capital Manama where Qassim is under de facto house arrest, examined the cleric on Sunday.

Qassim's family then refused further medical care provided by the government, the ministry said, insisting it did not "delay the provision of healthcare request by any patient or their family".

Relatives of the cleric, who is in his late 70s, confirmed earlier this week that they had declined an offer from the authorities to send a medical team chosen by officials.

They say they fear Qassim may be detained and deported should he leave his residence to seek medical care.

Sheikh Maytham Salman, a Shiite Bahraini cleric and member of the opposition movement, on Thursday described Qassim?s state as "slow murder", warning his life was "in danger".

Qassim, a leader of 2011 protests demanding an elected government in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, has been under de facto house arrest since a 2016 court order revoking his citizenship on charges including "serving foreign interests", an allusion to Iran.

While he has not made public the details of his condition, London-based rights group the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said he had high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

He has also been diagnosed with a groin hernia requiring urgent surgery, according to the institute.

Ruled for more than 200 years by the Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain is home to a Shiite majority that has long complained of political marginalisation.

The archipelago, located between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, has been rocked by protests demanding an elected government since 2011.

Bahraini authorities have accused Iran of backing the protests and of aiming to overthrow the government. Tehran denies any involvement.

Since 2011, Bahraini authorities have tightened their grip on all dissent, jailing dozens of high-profile clerics and activists and disbanding both religious and secular opposition groups.