SALAM: Shia persecution in Bahrain is official and systematic since 2011 uprising

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights expresses alarm at the continued and systematic intimidation carried out by the Bahraini authorities against the indigenous Shia Bahraini population observing the peaceful Ashura commemorations. Continued and sustained attacks on memorials, Ashura mourners, and Shia religious centres (‘Hussainiyat’) have intensified with authorities actively involved in attacks against mourners, whilst also allowing attackers to carry out unlawful and dangerous strikes without being pursued or prosecuted.

On 19/10/2015, two Shia religious centres in Bahraini cities Al-Hamla and Damestan commemorating the Ashura event were targeted with live gunfire. The Bahraini authorities unsurprisingly did not identify or apprehend the assailants. Today Police forces suppress mourners with birdshot gun and toxic tear gas while removing Ashura manifestations. This is in addition to continued attacks carried out by members of Bahrain’s security apparatus, with police officers and riot police regularly seen and filmed hitting mourners with tear-gas canisters directly, destroying memorials, and hurling abuse against Shia Muslim beliefs.

This follows a long line of violations directed by the Bahraini authorities, who also in 2011 destroyed over 38 Shia religious centres and mosques, which have been identified in the Bahrain Independent Commission Inquiry report.

The indigenous Shia Bahraini people, which represent the majority of the population of Bahrain, annually organise mass mourning and commemorate the martyrdom of prominent and historical Islamic figure, Imam Hussain, through processions, peaceful gatherings, creation of artistic expressions, and charitable works. The indigenous Shia Bahraini people have carried out these activities peacefully for centuries in Bahrain, and is observed by Shia Muslims worldwide.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bahrain has signed and ratified, caters specifically for religious manifestations like the Ashura commemorations. The article states that this freedom extends “individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”. Article 20 of ICCPR explicitly curtails any advocacy to “national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”, which the Bahraini authorities have allowed to unfold. The Bahraini Constitution (2002) article 22 also states that the “State guarantees the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades”.

As such, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights condemns the Bahraini authorities’ systematic coercions against mourners, religious centres, and memorials, as well as unwillingness to prevent violations against the Ashura commemorations.

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights urges the international community and religious representatives to strongly rebuke Bahrain and remind them of their international obligation and ethical responsibility. This is to cease the systematic and unrelenting persecution of the Shia Bahraini majority by the Bahraini authorities, and to allow peaceful displays of religious rites and parades to occur unobstructed.

20 October 2015