Bahrain's Shiite clerics on Tuesday criticized the Gulf kingdom's police for attacking religious processions just days after emergency rule was lifted.
Five clerics said in a statement that the force police committed "a flagrant violation of freedom of religious practice" against Shiite pilgrims on Sunday, when they attacked a procession commemorating the death of a revered saint, when Shiites were marching around the tiny island and thumping their chests in mourning.
Bahrain's majority Shiites were complaining of discrimination by the nation's Sunni rulers long before they started a wave of protests earlier this year, demanding greater political freedoms, more rights and an elected government in Bahrain, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Bahrain imposed martial law in March to quell the revolt that was inspired by uprisings against autocratic rulers around the Middle East. Hundreds of opposition supporters, political figures and Shiite professionals like doctors and lawyers were arrested during the emergency rule that expired last week.
"The targeting of processions ... forces us to express our strong rejection and to assert that there is no justification whatsoever for the practice," the clerics' statement said.
The head of Bahrain's Public Security, Brig. Gen. Tariq bin Mubarak bin Dayna, defended the action, saying the police advanced on several processions because some pilgrims broke the law by chanting political slogans during the commemoration of Imam Hadi's death.
"Action against these groups were undertaken utilizing legal procedures," bin Dayna told the state-run Bahrain News Agency. Several people were detained during Sunday's unrest, he said.
Emergency rule was lifted on Wednesday, and on Friday protesters again marched on the Pearl Square in the capital, Manama. They were met with tear gas and rubber bullets from Bahraini police as they tried to regain control of the original center of the anti-government protests.
At least 31 people have been killed since the protests began in mid-February.