Arrests and accusations based on sectarianism Closure of blogs, online forums and websites of Shiite villages and institutions Encouraging preachers and writers who incite sectarian hatred against Shias and their beliefs

Bahrain: 27 February 2009

In the context of increasing sectarian discrimination being implemented by the Bahraini authorities, heavily armed Special Forces attacked Shiite while performing the evening prayer on the curb outside the perimeter of of Al-Sadiq mosque which was besieged early this afternoon. The prayers, men and women, came to pray outside the mosque when the access to the mosque was blocked by the foreign mercenaries who started firing rubber bullets and chemical tear gas on them. This incident after the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Interior have issued orders to ban prayers and preaching in the evening of each Friday in Al-Saddiq mosque in Bahrain's capital Manama. This marks a new escalation which affects the freedom of religion of Shiite citizens. The decision was enforced when a large number of the Special Security Forces, made up of non-Bahraini mercenaries, besieged the Mosque on the afternoon of Friday 12th February 2009. The Friday communal prayer is led by Sheikh Abdul-Hadi Al-Mokhodhur, succeeding the well-known activist Hassan Mushaima, the general secretary of the "Haq" Movement for Liberty and Democracy.

Since Monday 26th January, the government has arrested almost 20 activists, among them three of the leaders of Haq Movement. Among the charges include forming an un-licensed organization that aims at incitement against the regime and encourages hatred against it. However, the arrests and charges only included the members which are of the Shia sect, and did not include the other leading members of the same movement who are of the Sunni sect.

The prohibition of prayer in the Shia mosque was preceded by the issuance of ministerial order number 2 for the year 2009, by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs, regarding the control of religious discourse. This order effectively targets and restricts the content of speeches and discussion forums in Shiite religious institutions, exclusively. Staff, sermons and speeches in Sunni mosques fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs, unlike Shiite religious institutions (mosques and Matams), which have long remained independent both financially and politically.

Hand in hand with the repression and controls placed on Shiite religious discourse, the BCHR has received several complaints that the authorities are turning a blind eye to Salafi preachers in certain Sunni religious insititutions, who speak in extremist sectarian terms and incite sectarian clashes and hatred against the Shia. At the forefront of these preachers – a previous and current Member of Parliament who has a close relations with the royal Court – is Jassim Al-Saeedi, whose speeches promote the idea that Shias are akin to Zionists.

This policy of restricting religious freedom coincides with an edict by the new Minister of Information, Sheikha Mai Al-Khalifa (a member of the Royal Family), which has banned numerous websites, including Shiite dialogue forums concerned with religious, cultural, social and political matters, or online forums for Shiite areas and villages. At the same time, the authorities have not extended the ban to web forums dedicated to slandering Shiite citizens and their religious and political beliefs, and that encouraging hatred against them. It is believed that those particular 'anti-Shia' websites are financed and managed by the foreign media department of the Ministry of Information, within a secret network revealed by the former government adviser Dr. Salah Al-Bandar. This team appears to work as part of the Ministry of Information, however its work is closer to the State Security Unit (for Intelligence), and it works on smearing the image of the Shiite citizens at the regional and international level, by using modern technology. This department is headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa, the former president of the State Security Unit. The State Security Unit is currently headed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa – the former president of the same team at the Ministry of Information.

Furthermore, several journalists associated with pro-government newspapers have repeatedly slandered Shiite citizens and their beliefs, and have smeared their image before local and international public, and continue to incite hatred against them. This smear campaign is carried out by a number of Arab journalists and media consultants from other Arab countries, (among them Egypt and Jordan), who are brought to Bahrain by the authorities, and awarded for this role with permanent residency and Bahraini citizenship. The former government adviser had published details and documents in relation to that.

Last January the Bahraini authorities used special security forces to remove slogans and black flags that the Shiite usually hang in their local areas and institutions during the religious observance of Ashoora. Members of the Special Security Forces tore down those banners and slogans in front of the people of Der, Karzakan, Musala and Belad Al-Qadeem in order to provoke them and insult their beliefs. (See photo attached.)

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its deep concern regarding the continuous escalation by security forces, as part of a sectarian programme, which targets Shia citizens in all fields. The Center fears that the authority’s sectarian policy may drive the country to further deterioration in its overall stability.

Therefore, the Center calls for the following:

1. To put an end to all the provocative practices and policies which restrict Shiite citizens religious freedoms, and calls on the authorities to respect their religion and their right to freedom of religious practice, as stated in international conventions.

2. To cease the targeting political activists and human rights defenders based on their sectarian belonging, and to release all human rights and political prisoners and to drop all charges against them.

3. To bring an end to the policies and practices revealed by Dr. Salah Al-Bandar revealed – Bahrain’s former government adviser – which foments and encourages sectarian discrimination and elimination, and to bring the perpetrators of that plot to justice.

4. To respect and maintain the freedom of expression according to the standards stated in the international covenants and charters, especially the ones the Bahraini government has committed to, and to amend Bahraini laws in accordance with those covenants.