The Rise in Religious Hostility in Bahrain The campaign of inciting sectarian hatred against Shias continues

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SHAFAQNA – This report is intended to illustrate how the majority Shia Muslim demographic endures systematic sectarian discrimination in Bahrain. Making the crisis oblivious to the international community, organizations, activists and free people around the globe, in order to put an end to the scenario of sectarian persecution practiced against the indigenous people.

Bahrain has witnessed an unprecedented rise of religious hostility, amid an attempt to eliminate an entire religious group’s presence in the country, since the eruption of the popular uprising in 2011, that resulted in peaceful protesters being executed, physically abused, exiled, stripped of citizenship, imprisoned, tortured, detained or having their personal or religious properties damaged. Takferi ideologists promote the culture of sectarian intolerance in Bahrain. They, freely and publicly, call for purifying Bahrain from Shia, dubbing them as: Iranians, Infidels, Majoosis, Rafidas, Traitors, Safawis, Unpatriotic, and many other degrading social frames. These acts are not a new occurrence, and they have been happening for decades. However, sectarian discrimination, systematic violations of human rights affiliated with religious beliefs, preferential treatment to certain religious groups and prohibition of certain religious rituals can no doubt lead to further chaos, frustration, and fanaticism.

Even though it is evidently clear that Shia-about 70% of the entire Bahraini population -represent the majority, the regime insists they are not, and no official statistics were designed to give an understanding regarding the population, which makes political naturalization policy easier to implement, and the elections to be misrepresented. According to The  United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Report for 2015, the Bahraini government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics, community members, and opposition politicians for defaming another religion, inciting hatred against another religious group, engaging in political speech in sermons, and allegedly supporting terrorism

The aggression being carried out against peaceful demonstrators in the country is happening because these people are solely Shia, who are, based on their background, not allowed to access their rights, governmental privileges, positions, jobs, etc. Governmental owned or financed official TV, newspapers and social media play an effective role in the Anti-Shi’ism campaign throughout insulting and degrading the Shia population, thoughts and rituals. Fabrications, propagandas and abusive language are employed to incite hatred against Shias. State-run Bahrain TV and Al-Watan newspaper, for instance, have continued to frame Shias as pro-Iran citizens.

The government has been restricting public preaching by Shia Muslims for security reasons as per its justification. Scores of  preachers were summoned, and around 38 Shia mosques, representing almost 5% of the registered mosques in the Ja’afari Directorate were deliberately demolished. Furthermore, various attacks were launched on Shia mosques and places of worship. The assault against Shias’ religious rituals continues through the restriction of the religious obligations and rituals, and the prevention of Scholars and worshippers from performing rites and particularly Friday prayers.

Shia Muslims are denied, by the Ministry of Education, the basic right to teach their children in accordance with the Ja’afari jurisprudence. The Olama’a Islamic Council and the Islamic Enlightenment Society; the two main Shia religious educational foundations, used to deliver Islamic teaching curriculums in accordance with the Ja’afari school of Islam. Both foundations were dissolved, and regarded as “illegal organizations that operate in breach of the Bahraini Constitution”. On the contrary, the government, with obvious favoritism, provides funds and facilities for religious education programs to other groups.

Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Shias in Bahrain and one of the founders of the current constitution, was revoked of his citizenship, merely, on the basis of performing a religious ritual (Khums). This act was indeed another form of discrimination against the Jaafari doctrine, and its legitimate wealth (funds). Later, a Bahraini court issued an arbitrary verdict against Ayatollah Qassim, sentencing him to a suspended year in prison. It also ruled the confiscation of Khums wealth, two properties used to accommodate religious scholars, in addition to a BD 100,000 fine. Meanwhile, there is a complete siege on the place he lives in, in the village of Diraz. Besides, his fate is unknown, after the regime raided the sit-in protest supporting him, and executed 5 of his followers, in May 23,2017.

Unfortunately, intimidation, arrests, prosecutions, imprisonment, exile or execution are possible fates utilizes particularly to silence believers and worshipers, peaceful dissidents, moderate clerks and preachers, students, scholars, elites, etc. Shias in Bahrain have long complained they face rooted discrimination, and regarded as second-class citizens, since the rights to freedom of religion and expression are neither recognized nor protected under the current regime. The ongoing persecution comes amid a sectarian campaign to silence people from different walks of life who publicly criticize discrimination against Shia citizens.

The Bahraini government should put an immediate end to the sectarian discrimination, and to maintain, instead, an inclusive and harmonious cultural diversity between different Bahraini social factions. It should further ensure impartial legislation and law enforcement to guarantee freedom of worship and religious practices without any existence of sectarian discrimination, whatsoever. Moreover, the international community must exert productive pressure on the authorities, allowing the UN Special Rapporteur on religious freedoms to visit Bahrain in order to ensure the protection of religious freedoms, and to, permanently, adopt monitoring international mechanisms for freedom of religion and worship.

By Sondoss Al Assad for Shafaqna

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