Bahrain to try top Shi'ite cleric for money laundering

July 16, 2016 2:52 PM EDT

Anti-government protesters hold posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim during an anti-government protest organised by Bahrain's main opposition group Al Wefaq, in Budaiya, west of Manama, Bahrain May 17, 2013. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File

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DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahraini cleric will go on trial next month on charges of collecting funds illegally and money laundering, the public prosecutor said on Saturday.

A source familiar with the case said the cleric was Shi'ite Muslim spiritual leader Ayatollah Isa Qassim, who had his citizenship revoked by the authorities less than a month ago.

The case has revived fears of fresh protests in Bahrain, where the Shi'ite Muslim majority complains of discrimination and demands a bigger share in running the country.

The United States and the United Nations have criticized the move, seen by local activists as part of a wider crackdown on dissent in the Western-allied kingdom, which has provoked a daily vigil outside Qassim's house that on some days swells to several thousand people.

The head of public prosecution, Ahmed al-Dosari, did not identify Qassim by name. He said in a statement posted on Instagram that the case would be heard at the beginning of August but gave no precise date.

It was not immediately possible to contact Qassim for a comment.

Bahraini media last month reported an investigation was underway into a bank account of some $10 million in Qassim's name to find the source of the funds and how they were being spent.

The move sparked a strongly worded statement from senior Shi'ite clerics, including Qassim, against any attempt to meddle with the collection of a Muslim tax called Khums, which is a pillar of Shi'ite Islam.

Bahrain in 2011 crushed an uprising by Shi'ites demanding reforms that would give them a bigger voice in governing the Sunni Muslim-ruled country, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based as a bulwark against Iran.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Potter)

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