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Recent Infringements of Shia Religious Freedom in Bahrain

Saturday 1 May 2010, by siawi2

It has been reported that yesterday evening, the Security Forces (made of foreign mercenaries) raided a Shia mourning procession in Hamad Town[1], which has a mixture population of Shia and Sunnis. It has been customary for many generations that Shia in Bahrain to come out on the street to express their mourns, in form of processions and flagellations. This Shia practice has been recently breached numerous times and in different occasions. It is believed that this infringement is part of a systematic stifling of Shia religious freedom exemplified itself in media, breaching activities in addition to the traditional discriminatory practices, by official bodies, against the indigenous Shia citizens of Bahrain.

In that incident, Shia in Hamad Town, particularly near round-about number 19, went out to the street of their neighbourhood, as it is the Shia customary practice in Bahrain on the commemoration of the demise of Al-Zahraa, the only daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. This practice has perused for many generations, and in different places in Bahrain, including the Capital Manama, Muharraq island and Hamad Town. The mourning procession in Hamad Town was attacked by deployment of armed Special Forces, who raided the peaceful religious activity using eight armoured vehicles and used stun grenades to disperse the participants and the audience. The night before, the same procession was surrounded by the SF who forced the participants to enter the Matam (Shia Community Center) and proceeded with their activity. Next morning, the Matam in charge was summoned to the police station where he was informed that the activity was not licensed, so he passed a request for an outside activity. The Authorities refused to receive the request that morning, and fiercely attacked the procession in the evening leading to injuries among people who were practicing their religious theology.

Along the same direction, the Authorities at Bahrain Airport recently prevented some Shia clerics from entering Bahrain. An official from Sanad Matam indicated that a prominent Shia scholar, named Syed Mohammed Al-Showky was ill-treated, detained at the airport for about nine hours before sending him back in a humiliating manner.

On the other hand, the Authorities facilitated the entry of a Saudi religious figure, Mohammed Al-Oraifi, who is known of his negative and provocative postures against Shia, to enter Bahrain to breach and participate in a religious activity. Some Shia organizations expressed unwelcoming notes and refusal to see Al-Oraifi in Bahrain after his breach about Shia, when he stigmatized them with abusive expressions while in Saudi Arabia[2]. The same breacher, who follows Wahabi theology, was banned to enter Kuwait after their Shia citizens protested to his trip and considered his speeches a source of division between sects of Islam.

Early this year and during the month of Muharram and Ashoora (Special condolence occasion for Shia worldwide), the security forces were deployed during dawn and day time to remove black clothes, portraits and condolence writings from aisles and entries of many Shia villages. This was considered an antagonistic attitude and was not attended by the Authorities even after filing cases in police stations. Moreover, media was engaged, through some columns, as well as Friday sermons of some loyalists to the ruling elite, to wage a derogatory campaign against Shia and their beliefs.

It is to be noted that although they form the majority population, their children are obliged to follow religious education, in private and public schools, based on sectarian theology other than Shia, which in some occasion considers them blasphemous and infidels. This is a blatant breach of the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), particularly Article 14 which states that: “States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”. It is to be noted that Bahrain is a signatory to this convention and submitted its last report in February 2002[3].

HAQ also believes that the attitude of the Authorities is in violation of Aricle 18 of the ICCPR, acceded by Bahrain in September 2006, which states that:“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”. HAQ, therefore, calls for:

1. The Authorities to cease targeting Shia citizens and any derogatory practices when expressing their beliefs. This includes removal of any practical constraints on their rights for religious freedom, as stated by the ICCPR.

2. Allowing Shia children to receive religious education as per their sect theology, in an equal privilege as it is offered to others, as postulated by the CRC .

3. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to swiftly visit Bahrain and meet with Shia activists and organizations to assess the situation with regards to targeting Shia which went beyond discriminatory levels.

April 8, 2010

Source : HAQ: Movement of Liberties and Democracy- Bahrain

حق: حركة الحريات والدموقراطية- البحرين

مكتب حقوق الإنسان ..

Human Rights Bureau,

Email: HAAQ.Bahrain Hv9