Bahrain: Authorities Escalate Crackdown on Shia Clerics and Freedom of Religion
The Bahrain Center For Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern over the escalation of the crackdown on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Bahrain. Following the recent alarming repression of human rights defenders and civil society, the authorities began targeting and prosecuting more religious figures in the country.
On 14 June 2016, the Ministry of Social Development closed down two non-profit religious societies: Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment Society (Al-Taweya), and access to the website of the latter was blocked in Bahrain. The Public Prosecution said in a statement on 15 June that it has completed an investigation into “instances of illegal fund-raising and money-laundering” attributed to officials from these societies. The head of Al-Risala society, Mahmood Al-Arab was arrested on 14 June 2016 and remains in custody.
On 15 Jun 2016, the Bahraini authorities informed Shaikh Mohamed Sanqoor that he is suspended from conducting sermons and leading Friday prayers at Imam Sadiq Mosque in Al-Deraz, where the largest Shia Friday prayer is held on a weekly basis. No reason was made public on the decision. Following that, Shia prayer Imams have issued a statement in which they declare feeling “unsafe” to conduct their mass prayers. As such, they have decided to suspend all weekly Friday mass prayers until further notice. Following this, the Jaffari Endowment released a statement warning against “suspicious calls being made to disturb the spirituality and piety of Ramadan.” Based on this warning, on 16 June 2016, the authorities summoned Shia cleric Sheikh Abdulmuhsen Attya AlJamri, for supporting the decision to suspend Friday prayers.
These actions have been accompanied with a rise in summons and interrogations of clerics. On 15 June 2016, at least nine clerics received a summons to attend interrogation on the following day, for what the Public Prosecution stated was an investigation on allegations of “illegal collection of money” as per the latest statement of the Public Prosecution. BCHR has identified among those summoned to appear on 16 June 2016 as:
- Sheikh Majeed Al-Mishal: the head of the dissolved Islamic Scholars Council.
- Sheikh Baqer Al-Hawaj, the head of the Islamic Enlightenment Society who was also summoned for an interrogation that lasted for six hours on 14 June, and received another summons for interrogation on 16 June 2016.
- Sheikh Hussain Al-Mahroos: the Office director for Sheikh Isa Qassim, the most prominent religious figure for the shia community in Bahrain and a founder of the Islamic Enlightenment Society.
- On the night of 15 June 2016, the security forces raided the house of Sheikh Hasan Al-Maleki at Malkiya village to hand him a summon. However, he is currently outside the country.
- Sheikh Ebrahim AlAnsari: Shia cleric and preacher.
- Sayed Hashim Al-Bahrani: a member of Al-Wefaq political society which was shut down several days ago.
- Sheikh Abdulmuhsen Attya AlJamri: was summoned at a late hour on 16 June 2016, just a few hours after he made a statement in support of the decision to suspend Friday prayers.
BCHR considers these acts as part of an intimidation campaign against clerics and preachers to hinder religious freedoms and their ability to exercise their freedom of expression. Last month, a cleric, Shaikh Mohamed Al-Mansi, received a one-year imprisonment sentence for an “unauthorized sermon.” In the latest United Nations procedures’ joint communication, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, jointly with other procedures, expressed concern at the government of Bahrain’s engagement in systematic discrimination against Shia. They write of alleged targeting with prosecution of Shia clerics. Currently, at least 20 Shia clerics are in detention over charges related to practicing their right to freedom of religion. On 13 Jun 2016, the Bahraini King promulgated the bill amending the 2005 Political Societies Law, which places a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds, and prevents any religious figure who delivers a sermon from joining political societies or from participating in political activities.
Finally, BCHR calls for the Government of Bahrain to:
- stop targeting Shia clerics’ freedom of religious worship, and of expression;
- allow the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and
- comply with international human rights law, particularly concerning the freedom of religion and expression.