Barbaghi Mosque, Destroyed by the Authority in April 2011 and Intends to Change its Historical Location, and is Still Preventing Prayer on its Site
“A State that intentionally destroys or intentionally fails to take appropriate measures to prohibit, prevent, stop, and punish any intentional destruction of cultural heritage of great importance for humanity, whether or not it is inscribed on a list maintained by UNESCO or another international organization, bears the responsibility for such destruction, to the extent provided for by international law” – Article 6 of UNESCO’s Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage.
The BCHR denounces the Bahraini Authority’s strive to restrict religious freedoms and its persistence in provoking a sect of the society, by preventing prayers in the locations of the mosques it destroyed in 2011, as well as the Authority’s persistence in its crime to destroy the cultural heritage represented in attempting to change the historical location of the mosque which is more than 450 years old. The Authority prevented for a second week in a row a group of people from praying in the location of “Ameer Mohammed Barbaghi” mosque located to the right of Khalifa bin Salman highway leading to the capital Manama; it suppressed the people praying and arrested one of them. This was followed by summoning and questioning a number of people as well.
Details indicate that calls have been made by a public body to perform the Dhuhr prayer on Saturday 28 December 2013 on the location of Barbaghi historical mosque which is more than 450 years old, after receiving confirmed information that the Authorities intend to change its original location and to move it approximately 30 – 100 meters backwards, in a provocation to the religious sentiments related to the mosque’s location, in addition to violating the sanctity of the site as a cultural and historical monument.
The security apparatuses confronted these prayer calls by imposing an iron fence around the site, in addition to the heavy security presence on all the entrances leading to the mosque with the aim of preventing the crowds from reaching the site and praying there. While some were attempting to pray, the regime forces suppressed the crowds by using teargas and chasing people with police vehicles and trying to run them over. The forces were able to arrest Sayed Hashim Ali while he was heading to pray, he was detained until 31 December 2013 and then released. The TV director Yasser Nasser was also summoned on 30 December 2013 to Isa Town police station where he was arrested and then presented on the following day to the Public Prosecution to interrogate him about his attempt to pray in Barbaghi mosque’s location. During the interrogation the Public Prosecutor asked him if he had “a permit to perform prayers in the site”. He also asked him not to go pray in this mosque again, “because building this mosque violates the requirements of the Ministry of Municipality and is now considered a security zone”. He was released after the interrogation. On 31 December 2013 the religious scholar and head of the Shariah Committee at the Olamaa Islamic Council, the religious scholar Fadhel Al-Zaki was summoned and questioned at Isa Town police station on the charge of “participating in a gathering that was not notified about”, on the background of his attempt pray in Ameer Mohammed Barbaghi mosque.
Worth mentioning, what further provoked people’s feelings was that there were sectarian and offensive phrases written on the washing facility in the mosque’s location which is surrounded by a fence and which raises the question of who is the person behind the act amid the security barrier that has been imposed since two weeks on the mosque’s location.
The security apparatuses had also prevented praying at the same mosque location last Saturday 21 December 2013, and forced people to go to another site to pray, although prayers were performed in the location for the past two years after the mosque was destroyed. This type of security restrictions on the locations of destroyed mosques is not the first of its type, the BCHR had monitored in a previous report the security forces preventing prayers in June 2013 in another historical mosque and which is Abu-Thar Al-Ghufari mosque which is more than 3 centuries old, and which the Authorities intend to turn into a “park” after it had destroyed it in 2011.
The mosque of Ameer Mohammed Al-Barbaghi lies in an extinct village known as “Barbaghi”, and it is an old historical shrine for a sublime religious scholar known as “Sheikh Ameer Mohammed Barbaghi” whose tomb is in the mosque. Confirmed sources indicate that Barbaghi mosque was established in 1549, which means its existence was before Al-Khalifa’s family came to Bahrain in 1783, which is more than 230 years difference. The regime forces, alongside the Peninsula Shield Forces, destroyed the mosque on 17 April 2011, after suppressing the massive protest in the Pearl Roundabout and declaring the state of emergency period which initiated a new phase of suppressing and harassing the Bahraini people.
The BCHR believes that turning a historical and cultural site that has a religious sanctity to a restricted security zone is a serious violation of Bahrain’s adherence to preserve cultural heritage and conserve the historical areas according to the UNESCO agreements and recommendations, this is in addition to the previous violation of destroying the mosque, and which indicates the intentions of wiping out the historical identity of the place. Furthermore, restricting prayers at the mosque’s site and working on changing the site to another building or to another place falls within violating religious freedom.
UNESCO’s Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage states, “cultural heritage is an important component of the cultural identity of communities, groups and individuals, and of social cohesion, so that its intentional destruction may have adverse consequences on human dignity and human rights”; the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas also states, “historic areas are an immovable heritage whose destruction may often lead to social disturbance”.
The security measures taken and the Authority’s attempt to change the identity of the historical site by force is a clear violation of Article 4 of UNESCO’s Declaration concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage which states, “When conducting peacetime activities, States should take all appropriate measures to conduct them in such a manner as to protect cultural heritage and, in particular, in conformity with the principles and objectives of the (…) and the 1976 Recommendation concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas.”
In the context of changing the historical identity, Bahrain’s ruler Hamad Al-Khalifa had said in a speech on 16 December 2013 that the Al-Khalifa tribe had come to Bahrain in 1738, and that the country embraced Islam after the arrival of the tribe. In a later statement he denied that there are any, “documents, or in history, that can prove otherwise”. While a lot of evidence confirms, including the website of the Bahraini Ministry of Culture, that Bahrain was Islamic since the first era of Islam – 629 A.D. – and that it had embraced Islam voluntarily and without any battles after the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be Upon Him) had sent a letter to Bahrain’s ruler at that time “Al-Munther bin Sawi Al-Tamimi”. (Photo of the letter in Bahrain’s National Museum)
Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdha – Vice-president of the BCHR – stated that Bahrain’s ruler Hamad Al-Khalifa is primarily responsible for the crime of destroying the cultural heritage in Bahrain signified in destroying the historical mosques and falsifying facts, and he added, “the armed regime forces not only destroyed mosques, but it is still continuing to wipe out their traces by preventing by force prayers at the mosque’s location that has been standing for more than 450 years.”
The BCHR believes that these systematic practices and discrimination against the Shiite sect confirms the observations of the activists about the systematic restriction on the exercise of religious freedom (for more information look below) and it corresponds with the report of the US Department of State on religious freedoms in Bahrain. This is a clear violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change 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.”
The BCHR holds the Authority in Bahrain the responsibility of what might be caused if it insists on the official violent approach as a method to confront the religious practices and insisting on continuing the crime of destroying cultural, historical and religious heritage; it therefore calls on the US, UK, UN and all the Authority’s close allies and relevant organizations to:
Put pressure on the Authority in Bahrain to observe and maintain human rights especially those related to maintaining the cultural and historical heritage and preserving the historical sites, as well as what is related to freedom of religion and practicing rituals;
Trialing Bahrain internationally for the continuous and repetitive violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it had endorsed and its violations of its adherence to protecting cultural heritage.
It also calls on the Authority in Bahrain to:
- Stop targeting religious freedoms;
- Stop the policy of destroying the cultural heritage and the historical identity of Bahrain’s areas;
- Stop the policy of sectarian discrimination;
- Rebuild the destroyed mosques in their original locations;
- Hold accountable and question all those involved in the violation represented in destroying mosques and suppressing religious gatherings, whether they are involved through supervision and / or order, especially the higher ranking personnel.
The regime forces, alongside the Peninsula Shield Forces, carried out a campaign to destroy the mosques belonging to the Shiite sect in 2011 after suppressing the massive protest in the Pearl Roundabout and declaring a state of emergency which established a new phase of suppressing and harassing the Bahraini people. That period witnessed destroying almost 35 Shiite mosques among them historical mosques that are more than 400 years old in a clear challenge and provocation of the sentiments of a sect of the society. The report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry – Bassiouni’s Committee that was appointed by Bahrain’s ruler Hamad Al-Khalifa, indicated that destroying mosques is considered a collective punishment to target a particular sect:
“The fact that these were primarily Shia religious structures, the demolitions would be perceived as a collective punishment and would therefore inflame the tension between the government and the Shia population”
Bahrain is witnessing between every now and then clear provocation of the history of the original people and its sect, whereas a number of mosques were subjected to intentional shots and vandalism, and some of them were even targeted with teargas merely as revenge and vengeance. The Authority in Bahrain sponsors sectarian incitement by fabricating cases that aim at making the components of the society clash among themselves as had happened in the case of the alleged bombing in Riffa mosque. This happened in several occasions in religious processions, the last of these was obstructing a mourning (Azza) procession on 20 December 2013 when those holding the procession were commemorating a Shiite occasion.