Discrimination and deprivation of religious freedom in Bahrain

Bahraini Security forces and army destroying mosques and religious facilities of the Shiite sect, some dating back over a century.

8 June 2011

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the actions of the Bahraini authorities – backed by Saudi Arabia – of dreadful crimes against places of worship and other religious establishments of the Shiite sect since the declaration of the so-called ‘State of National Safety’ (martial law). Many of them have been totally demolished without any prior notice or taking into account the presence of copies of Holy Quran, which in turn were burned.

Bahraini Security forces and army destroying mosques and religious facilities of the Shiite sect, some dating back over a century.

8 June 2011

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the actions of the Bahraini authorities – backed by Saudi Arabia – of dreadful crimes against places of worship and other religious establishments of the Shiite sect since the declaration of the so-called ‘State of National Safety’ (martial law). Many of them have been totally demolished without any prior notice or taking into account the presence of copies of Holy Quran, which in turn were burned. According to official statistics issued by the Department of al-Awqaf al-Jafería (Administration of Shiite Religious Sites) [1] at least 35 mosques were demolished and vandalized as well as 8 places of worship and two cemeteries. These numbers were correct at the time of preparing the statistics, while more infringements occurred later.

The Bahraini government has justified these crimes – which are classified as crimes of genocide under the UN Convention on Genocide (1948) – by claiming that those mosques and facilities were not licensed and that some had been built on lands owned by the state. There are official documents that prove the ownership of these mosques by al-Awqaf al-Jafería and the building of some of them dating back for decades before the establishment of departments of authentication and authorization. This is proof of the validity of the allegations made by the Shiites during decades of discrimination and a denial of freedom of religious practice and also preventing them from building their own mosques in many areas and cities. The recent attacks began when the security forces on Friday 25th March 2011 attacked Kowaikebat Mosque [2] in the Koura region and burned it and then returned to remove the rubble.

Sayeda Zainab Mosque was also attacked by unidentified people at dawn of Thursday, 31st March 2011 with Molotov cocktails, which led to the burning of the mosque’s walls and furniture. Authorities did not conduct any investigation to uncover the perpetrators.

Security forces proceeded to Um Albanein Mosque at roundabout 13 in Hamad Town [3] on Tuesday, 12th April 2011 and removed it completely. Shiite residents of Hamad Town have been complaining for years of the prohibition on them building their own mosque, especially as they constitute a large proportion of the inhabitants of the town. There are only a very small number of Shiite worship places in Hamad Town, while there are dozens of mosques belonging to the Sunni sect. This shows a clear systematic discrimination.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 14th April 2011, the Bahraini and Saudi Forces vandalized Kareem Ahl Albait Mosque and destroyed the speakers. They also demolished Abo Talib Mosque at roundabout 19 in Hamad Town.

At around 11 p.m., a large masked group of Bahraini security forces – mostly from other Arab and Asian countries and working as mercenaries – entered many Shiite villages in civilian clothes, carrying arms and accompanied by a troop of the army of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with armored vehicles and bulldozers. Without any prior notice, they started demolishing and dismantling multiple Mudhayef (small cabins where people distribute free food on religious occasions and celebrations) that were under the care of Shiite worship places. Among the properties that have been demolished: Mudheif Alqasim under the care of Imam Ali Maatam (a maatam is a the place where Shiites gather for religious occasions), Ali Alakbar Mudheif that belonged to the Alhasaweiah Family that lived in the area for more than 60 years and Lovers of Hussain Mudheif near Aqeela Zainab Maatam. They also broke the tin roof of Mahooz Maatam and destroyed religious signboards and statues and public utilities of some Shiite mosques and maatams.

On the same day, the security forces removed the flags that symbolize religious rituals of Shiaa and Mudhayef from Zing area to Khameis area.

They also demolished a newly built Mudheif in Sanad Town.

Bahraini police forces – backed by Saudi forces – headed towards several areas on Friday, 15th April 2011 and sabotaged many mosques and tampered with their contents:

Sitra (15/4/2011): Abid mosque [4] was demolished. Mohammad Jamil el-Ghazal, who is in charge of the mosque, told us that the mosque is old and was established in the early fifties. Its location was a small hill surrounded by four flags marking the location and size of a grave. Mohammad Jamil along with some people of the region built a fence around the mosque and started the official registration process with the Awqaf and ministry of the municipality. After many reviews, the municipality visited the site and it was registered as a mosque and tomb after referring to the documents, aerial photographs and maps that proved the existence of the mosque for several decades. Security forces also went to Sheikh Mohammad Mosque [5] and damaged its contents.

Registration document of the mosque

Hamad Town (15/4/2011): Imam al-Hassan al-Askari Mosque [6]which is a cabin at roundabout 22 and Salman al-Mohammadi Mosque at roundabout 19 were demolished after a militant group attacked the worshipers there at about 9 p.m. and asked them to evacuate the mosques in preparation for demolition at 11 pm.

Nuwaidrat (15/4/2011): 10 mosques were demolished, including:
(1) Al-Moamen Mosque, which is one of the most famous and oldest mosques in Bahrain. During the process of demolition without any prior notice, the walls were knocked down onto the bookshelves that contained hundreds of copies of the Holy Quran [7]. They have also cut down all the trees surrounding the mosque and the adjacent garden [8].

(2) Al-Imam al-Baqir Mosque [9]: It includes a grave for a martyr of the Hashemites (i.e. descendent of the prophet Mohammed). It was built as a rectangle with a mihrab (place where Muslim Clerk will lead prayers) at the front. It is located between Al-Moamen Mosque and Salman the Persian Mosque.

(3) Al-Imam al-Jawad Mosque [10].
(4) Al-Imam al-Hassan Mosque [11].

(5) Salman the Persian Mosque [12].
(6) Abo Dhar al-Ghafari Mosque.
(7) al-Imam al-Hadi Mosque.
(8) al-Imam Asadiq Mosque.
(9) Shaikh Yousuf Mosque
(10) Al-Dowaira Mosque. [13]

On Sunday afternoon, 17th April 2011, the Bahraini and Saudi Forces demolished al-Rasool Al-Adham Mosque [14] in Karzakan, despite permission being granted by the municipality to build it.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Barbaghi Mosque was also demolished. [15] Its caretaker said: “We used to come to visit the grave of Sheikh Mohammed al-Barbaghi at the seventies. It was a room with the grave of the aforementioned Sheikh. His name was written on the grave. In the eighties, some of the Muslims from Aali village gathered donations to build the mosque. In 1984, it was renovated before building of the Highway.

On the same day (17/4/2011), Imam al-Sadiq Mosque in Salmabad was demolished. It is also one of the licensed mosques in al-Awqaf. [16] The forces also demolished Kareem Ahl al-Bait Mosque and all of the copies of Quraan and religious books were scattered around.

The next day (18/4/2011), the Bahraini and Saudi forces demolished Fadak al-Zahraa Mosque [17] at roundabout 1 in Hamad Town and left the burned copies of Quraan under the rubble.

They also destroyed many Mudhayef in Sanabis [18] and Abo Qowa.

There were only 2 mosques of the Shiite sect in the town of Zayed were spared. On Wednesday 20th April 2011, the Bahraini and Saudi forces demolished both of them: Imam Ali Mosque and Fatima Al-Zahra Mosque.

A video proving the attack of Bahraini and Saudi forces on Mulla Ali al-Marzooq Maatam on the same Wednesday spread through Youtube. [19] In Aali, Ein Rastan Mosque was demolished by the Bahraini and Saudi police forces on Thursday 21st April 2011. This mosque is considered one of the oldest mosques in Aali. [20]

Al-Alaweyein “Sheikh Ibrahim” Mosque was also demolished, even though it was newly built and licensed by the Awqaf. [21] Al-Murawhena Mosque was also vandalized and demolished, but details of the demolition process or history could not be found.

On Monday 25th April 2011, the Bahraini and Saudi forces invaded al-Khudhur Mosque in Bani Jamrah and wrecked its contents [22]. They also invaded al-Shams Mosque in Sitra [23] on Thursday, 5th May 2011, where they threw the Holy Quran and prayers books on the floor, dumped garbage in the middle of the mosque and scattered the contents of its library. A few days later, they demolished al-Wattayah Mosque [24] in a nearby area.

According to sources in al-Awqaf al-Jaferia, many mosques were vandalized, including Sheikh Maitham Mosque in Juffair area where some of the windows were broken, al-Zahraa Mosque in Muharraq, whose contents were tampered with, Sheikh Yaqoob Mosque in Noaim as its main door was broken, Sa’sah bin Sohan Mosque in Asker as all its content were broken and al-Anwar (al-Anwari) Mosque in Daih as its public utilities were demolished.

At dawn on Friday, 13th May 2011, riot police forces and a group of civilians attacked Imam Sadiq Mosque in Duraz. They tampered with its contents, scattered copies of the Holy Quran and prayer books and stole audio and electronic equipment from it. Witnesses said that a large number of riot police and civilians broke the doors of the mosque and entered after having beaten a Pakistani cleaner. They then scattered copies of the Holy Quran, stole some television screens, sabotaged the contents of the audio and control rooms and left some sonic bombs.

The Shiite religious gathering places (Matam) were not spared. Some places were vandalized and lost some of their contents such as Haj Hassan al-Oraibi Matam for men in Kawarah. Other places had doors, windows and contents broken, such as al-Baqer Matam for men in Bouri, Abd al-Hai Matam for men in Sanabis, al-Sadah Matam for men in Sitra, West Noaim Matam for men in Noaim, al-Qasab Matam for men in Manama, Isa Town Matam for women and Shaha Matam for women.

Cemeteries also became the scene of violations by the regime as its forces, backed by the Saudi troops, attacked 3 cemeteries in Shiite areas. They entered Muharraq cemetery and searched its utilities and warehouse and they destroyed Bani Jamra cemetery and demolished its fence. On 4th May 2011, they also went to Nuwaidrat cemetery, dug up the grave of Sayed Mohammed Abu Khulais, left it open and left the cemetery [25]. A witness said that the military forces of the Peninsula Shield, the army and the security police of the Ministry of the Interior backed by bulldozers demolished the mausoleum above the grave. They were not satisfied with that as they also dug up the grave by the bulldozer, exposing the remains of the body of Abu Khulais and unearthing the skull, femur and other parts of his body [26]. Some of the soldiers kicked the skull and cracked some bones. They left after that and some of the villagers gathered the bones and buried them in their place again.

The security forces did not stop there. They also vandalized parks and heritage gates [27] in some Shiite villages, such as Bani Jamrah [28], Oker, Sar, Karanah and Duraz. Um Mohamed farm, which the security forces demolished in Bani Jamrah is the same farm that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Urban Planning praised in May of 2009, and asked the officials in his ministry to provide all the necessary requirements for Um Mohamed to manage it[29].

Many international and Arabic media channels showed video clips that prove that the Bahraini authorities backed by Saudi forces demolished mosques and destroyed copies of the Quran [30].

The Independent newspaper said in one of the articles published on 19th April 2011 that the government of Bahrain is destroying mosques and places of worship belonging to the Shiite majority there. The Independent expressed its concern about the increasing hostility between the Shiites and Sunnis because of what the government of Bahrain is doing [31].

While activists [32] all over the world were talking about the demolishing of mosques by the Bahraini government, Bahrain Television continued to sing alone. In the observer (al-Rasid) program, the presenter talked about those who demolished these mosques, saying that they are unknowns and don’t belong to Islam [32]. He also asked to withdraw their Bahraini nationalities and expel them from the country.

The Ministry of Information also blocked the al-Awqaf al-Jaferia website after it published documents proving that many of the mosques that were demolished are licensed and documented in the official governmental site [34]. Al-Awqaf al-Jaferia issued a statement stressing the falsity of the government’s allegations about the lack of a license or ownership of the demolished mosques or its existence on public lands as there are no lawsuits against them in court [35]. The website of al-Awqaf al-Jaferia added a list of some of the mosques that were vandalized or demolished [36]. Other activists also launched a page on Google Maps to document cases of demolition and destruction that have affected Shiite mosques [37].

After Bahraini authorities were subjected to considerable media pressure, Minister of Information – Fawaz Mohammed Al Khalifa – said in a press conference in response to a question about what is being said about the demolition of mosques, that “the government of Bahrain or any Muslim will not agree with things against religion and belief, and the Government of Bahrain builds Mosques and has the highest proportion in the region, but what happened is a departure from the fundamental issue as there were encroachments on state properties as well as private properties. There are around 600 cases in court and what has been demolished does not exceed 10 percent of these cases [38]”.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Justice insisted on his opinion that “there is no targeting of places of worship” in a press conference held on 3rd May 2011. He said that the number of existing places of worship is actually greater than the need for people. And said that there are about 32 mosques in one area and another area has about 22 mataam next to each other and he stressed that there is no targeting of the places of worship and talking about it is unacceptable [39]. But after President Barack Obama’s speech in the White House, emphasizing that the U.S. refuses the destruction of Shiite mosques in Bahrain, the government decided finally to admit the demolition of the mosques, vowing to re-build the mosques that were demolished [40].

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) sees that these systematic attacks and discrimination against the Shiites is not fortuitous but a policy that the authorities have adopted in recent years and has been indicated in many international reports, the most recent being the report of the U.S. State Department on religious freedom in Bahrain [41]. Perhaps what most worries the Centre and confirms its view is that the matter is closely linked to the presence of Peninsula Shield Forces from Saudi Arabia and the direction of the demolition processes by the police and army forces, while dealing with these matters should be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Municipalities and not the Ministry of the Interior or the Peninsula Shield Forces, who claimed that it came to Bahrain for the protection of vital installations [42].

The Centre believes that such acts were not personal efforts but are orders from Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, and execution was entrusted to Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force, Sheikh Khalifa Ahmed Al Khalifa and Commander of Peninsula Shield Forces, Maj. Gen. Mutlaq Salem Alazimaa.

Mr. Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, commented on the demolition of Shia mosques and houses of worship, saying: “the demolition of mosques, places of worship and historical shrines, some dating back to before the arrival of the present royal family in Bahrain is a historically unforgivable crime and a disgrace.” He added: “But a promise to ourselves and a responsibility that we all bear, the people of this country, that we will work to build these monuments again no matter what the sacrifices are. ”

Based on all of the above, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls for the Bahraini authorities to:

• Stop the targeting of Shiite mosques and places of worship immediately.
• Stop the systematic discrimination against the religious freedoms of the Shiite community.
• Hold accountable those involved in this shameful infringement on the history of a sect of people in Bahrain.
• Reconstruct destroyed mosques and worship places and take responsibility for all the damage and vandalism caused to these religious establishments.
• Formally apologize to the Shiite community about any contempt for their religious beliefs and sanctities that occurred.