On 23 May 2017, the police violently cracked down on a peaceful sit-in in Duraz, causing the death of five people and the injuring and arrest of hundreds.
The rallies and sits-in in the village of Duraz started in June 2016, when the government revoked the citizenship to the prominent Shia religious leader Sheikh Isa Qassim. The supporters’ reaction was prompt and strong. They started to protest peacefully and they organised sits-in around his house to protect the religious leader from deportation. Nevertheless, the Bahraini police blockaded the village. They erected barriers around it and installed checkpoints at the entrances, they restricted the access to residents only and they started to conduct sporadic raids.
Before the events of 23 May 2017, the police had already cracked down on peaceful protesters more than once. On 21 December 2016, security forces used tear gas can against demonstrators. Furthermore, on 26 January 2017 security forces used violence again and killed an 18-year-old, Mustafa Hamdan, shooting him in the head.
The escalation of violence led to the events of 23 May 2017, which were considered the bloodiest action since 2011. On that occasion, security forces used again tear gas and shotguns against protestors. Moreover, after having wounded them they denied access to hospitals and medical care to at least a dozen of civilians. In the end, five individuals were killed, Ahmed Jamil Ahmed Mohammed al-Asfoor, Mohamed Ali Ebrahim Ahmed Kadhem Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Hamdan who was the older brother of the 18-year-old killed the previous year and Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen Ali Nasser (aka: Mohamed Khadim Muhsin Zain al-Deen), who was a respected environmental activist. The fifth individual remained unknown.
At the time the former United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called upon the Bahraini Government to investigate on the events, especially on the loss of lives and hold accountable those responsible. In addition, a group of UN rights experts expressed their concerns on the excessive use of violence against protestors and the crackdown on civil society. During the repression of 23 May 2017, over 280 people have been arrested, 171 of them were also brought to trial. On 27 February 2019, 167 individuals were convicted in a mass trial. Their sentences varied from six months up to ten years in prison. Among the people arrested in Duraz, two were tried in a military trial for civilians in December 2017. Seven UN experts condemned it as a “collective trial against established international human rights law and standards”. On the other hand, no one has been held accountable for the violent action against civilian nor for the death of the five individuals.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) strongly condemns the culture of impunity still dominant in Bahrain. It calls upon the Bahraini government to hold accountable those responsible for the violent acts of 23 May 2017 and the death of five. Moreover, it urges the government to cease cracking down on civil society and open a constructive dialogue.