Bahrain: government violations during Ashura season 2013

Press Conference on Religious Freedom Violations during Ashura (November 2013)

The Department for Religious Freedom in the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory has expressed its strong condemnation of the escalation of the pace of systematic violations on religious freedom in Bahrain during Ashura (November 2013), and the increasing number of official violations carried out by government ministries during Ashura season; noting that the religious ceremony of Ashura has been marked by the people of Bahrain for hundreds of years, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, and has become a landmark of Bahrain.

The Head of the Religious freedom Department in the  Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, Shaikh Maytham Al Salman, at a press conference on 18th November 2013 said:

“Bahrain has long been the friendliest model in the gulf states representing acceptance, harmony and tolerance between the various components of its society. Bahrainis have long lived peacefully far away from sectarianism, extremism and fanaticism, however several official and non-official parties sought to sow sectarianism between citizens during the political crisis in the country;  to distort reality and attempt to portray the political crisis as a sectarian conflict between Shia’s and Sunni’s. They have also attempted and planned to upsurge sectarian violence but have failed to do so due to the persistence of the majority of Bahrainis to not accept being driven down this path.

The recent targeting of Ashura commemorations is regarded an extension of the sectarian agenda, since Ashura is appreciated and respected by all Bahrainis regardless of ideological, political and social differences.

We have witnessed a rise in the rate of governmental violations during Ashura season this year and those violations included the following:

1 – 16 religious centers (Ma’tam) leaders, who have a prominent role in organizing Ashura gatherings; were called for questioning and interrogation by the ministry of interior affairs on issues related to their core administrative work for the centres (Ma’tam). A score of them were threatening as well.

This is regarded by BHRO as a clear violation of religious freedom which is guaranteed under international conventions on human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

 Article (22) of the constitution of Bahrain states that “Freedom of conscience is absolute. The State guarantees the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings in accordance with the customs observed in the country.”

2 – 11 residential areas marking Ashura, have been targeted by removing or destroying commemorative banners, flags and black cloth.

3- The Destruction or vandalizing of artistic works of Ashura. The Ministry of Interior on the  (13 / November 2013) demolished the fine artistic monument (Safinat al Najat or the Ship of Salvation) in the Juffair area.

Juffair residents was surprised by the destruction of the monumental Ship that stood 27 meters long and 10 meters high. Security forces used tear gas to disperse people which caused suffocation to a large number of women and children in a women’s religious center (Ma’tam) near the demolished artistic monument.

4 – The Ministry of Interior raided Ma’tam Al Qaem religious center (Ma’tam) in A’ali and violated its sanctity on 18/11/13 without legal or legitimate justification.

5 – The Ministry of Interior targeting a religious Commemoration march “Labayk ya Hussain ” in the village of Nuwaidrat on 15.11.2013, causing injuries to at least 12 participants.

6 – Summoning the religious vocalist Abdul-Amir Al Biladi on 15/11/2013 to Noaim police center, who was questioned on matters related to his religious belief and personal views.The vocalist Mohammed Jaber and cleric Sheikh Mahmoud Taheri were also summoned by Budaiya police center  on 17/11/2013.

7 – A number of citizens were called for interrogation under the pretense of displaying Ashura commemorative banners and flags over their homes or rooftop. This is a clear violation of human rights. It is also a clear indicator that the government provokes serious sectarian tension and denies Shias their right of  expressing their religious beliefs freely

8 – Harassment of Citizens heading to the Ashura Commemorative ceremony in some areas in Bahrain and the disruption of the flow of traffic, including issuing traffic tickets to vehicles parked in the designated parking areas

9. Terrorizing the Island of Sitra during its central Ashura Commemoration on 18/11/2013; through breaking into the village with dozens of vehicles and deliberately destroying artistic displays of Ashura hours before the beginning of the ceremony on the 13th of  Muharram.

There is no legal justification to prevent citizens from exercising their personal and religious freedom by displaying flags or banners expressing their religious beliefs on their homes or rooftops, and the expression of Grief at the martyrdom of Imam Hussein through processions. Similarly there is no justification to the raiding of Religious centers (Ma’tams) and the destruction of the displays of Ashura. All these practices are considered an obvious war on religious freedom in Bahrain.

Al Salman called on the government of Bahrain to respect its international obligations and commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article (18): “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to practice his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Finally, Al Salman said that the call by the Bahraini Human Rights Observatory to respect the rights and freedom of religious groups is not limited to a certain religious sect or religion without the other; but to respect all of them regardless of religious differences

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