Authorities in Sunni-ruled Bahrain on Wednesday expelled the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the latest manifestation of tension with the kingdom's Shiite majority.
Sheikh Hussein al-Najati was among 31 Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked in November 2012 over accusations that they had undermined state security, more than a year after authorities crushed a Shiite uprising in March 2011.
The opposition denounced the deportation as an "attack on Shiism", accusing authorities of "sectarian persecution".
Najati "practised unclear activities, without coordinating with authorities which discovered afterwards that he was Sistani's representative," the interior ministry said.
"Working as an official representative of any party necessitates a letter of accreditation that specifies responsibilities and planned activities," it said.
Najati worked on "collecting funds and distributing them" in the name of the Iraq-based Sistani, one of the top Shiite spiritual guides, the ministry added.
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Najati was born in 1960 to Iranian parents in Bahrain, it said.
He arrived on Wednesday in Lebanon, according to Bahrain's Al-Wefaq association, the largest Shiite opposition formation.
Al-Wefaq said Najati's expulsion goes beyond affecting the cleric personally to "target Shiism as a sect in the country and is a persecution to its followers".
It argued in a statement that religious representatives of Shiite spiritual guides were always present in the archipelago without needing permission, "even before the establishment of Bahrain as a modern state".
"Saying that religious representatives of (spiritual) guides need permits is a flagrant attack on the principles of Shiism," it said.
Sistani, who is based in the Iraqi city of Najaf, in 2011 condemned Bahrain's crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests which demanded democratic reforms in the Gulf kingdom.
Bahrain remains deeply divided three years after the February 2011 uprising, with persistent protests sparking clashes with police, scores of Shiites jailed on "terror" charges and reconciliation talks deadlocked.