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US Department of State in Religious Freedom Report for 2017: Intense Persecution against Shia Clerics by Authorities

2018-06-13 - 11:05 am

Bahrain Mirror- Exclusive: US Department of State indicated in its annual report on religious freedoms for 2017 that Bahraini government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics, community members, and opposition politician.

The report highlighted the persecution against Shia clerics and said that courts sentenced several Shia clerics to prison terms for participating in the demonstrations in support of Sheikh Isa Qassim. In October a court sentenced Hamza Al-Deiri, scholar and former Member of Parliament (MP) of Al- Wefaq, to one year in prison for taking part in the sit-in outside of Qassim's residence. Authorities released seven other Shia clerics in August after they completed a one-year prison term following a demonstration in support of Qassim. Between August 3-9, authorities released an additional six Shia clerics - Sheikh Mounir Al-Maatouk, Sayed Yassine Al-Mosawi, Sheikh Imad Al-Shagla, Sheikh Aziz Al-Khadran, Sheikh Ali Naji, and Sayed Ali Ahmad - one year after their arrest over the Diraz protest that began in June 2016.

On April 3, the Court of Cassation overturned the Appeals Court's nine-year prison sentence given to Ali Salman, secretary general of the Shia-aligned opposition political society Al-Wefaq, and restored his four-year sentence. On November 12, the Bahrain News Agency reported new criminal charges were being filed against Salman and two other individuals for conspiring with Qatar to undermine the government in 2011.

Several Shia clerics arrested in 2011 remained in prison at year's end. They had been associated with the political opposition and given sentences ranging from 15- years to life imprisonment on charges related to terrorist activity or inciting hatred. Human rights NGOs considered them to be political prisoners.

The report indicated that the authorities arrested Shia scholar Sheikh Abdul Zahra Al-Karbabadi along with his wife and sister on April 28. No update on their cases was available at year's end. Former Al-Wefaq MP Hasan Isa remained in prison while his trial on charges of helping to finance a terrorist bomb attack continued. Authorities had arrested Isa in August 2015, following a July 2015 bombing in Sitra that killed two police officers. Isa denied involvement in the bombing, saying he had not given money to terrorists, but had distributed funds to poor families in his role as a religious leader of his neighborhood. The Court of Appeals postponed Isa's case until November 7, but no further information was reported publicly.

The government continued to monitor and provide general guidance for the content of sermons and to bring charges against clerics who repeatedly spoke on unapproved topics.

On April 11, the High Criminal Court of Appeal upheld a six-month jail sentence for a Shia religious chanter, Mahdi Sahwan, who had participated in what the government called "an illegal gathering" outside of Qassim's residence. On April 12, authorities summoned four Shia clerics for questioning after the clerics commemorated the death of an Iraqi clergyman who was executed by the Iraqi government in the 1980s. On May 25, the government arrested Shia cleric Isa Al Moamen for a sermon he delivered in August 2016. He was released after serving a three-month prison sentence. On June 28, authorities charged Sheikh Hasanain Al-Mhanna with "inciting hatred against the regime and inciting contempt against a sect" based on the background of a sermon he delivered. No additional details were reported on his case.

The report noted that in August, the Secretary of State called on the government to "stop discriminating against the Shia communities." U.S. officials both publicly and in private meetings continued to advocate for the government to pursue political reforms, which would take into consideration the needs of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation.

Arabic Version