2021 Panorama: Bahrain's 2021 Ashura Turns into Security Season Targeting Shiite Citizens
2023-10-06 - 2:18 p
Bahrain Mirror: The Ashura season of 2021 in Bahrain unfolded against a backdrop of heightened security measures that seemed to target the Shiite community. Commencing in August, the authorities implemented strict measures and stringent conditions, restricting the commemoration of Ashura rituals.
Precautionary measures announced by the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs included limiting the number of mourners and prohibiting mourning marches, and particularly restricting gatherings to small crowded sites outside Husseiniya buildings.
Expressing their concern, Bahrain's religious scholars condemned these measures on August 16, 2021, asserting that the restrictions and arbitrary measures "lacked a valid medical basis and were indicative of sectarian politics and systematic religious targeting, increasing year after another."
Subsequently, a meeting convened by the Jaafari Waqf administration, attended by many bodies, including the ministries of municipalities, health, interior and justice, as well as heads of obsequies and Husseiniyas, only reiterated and clarified the conditions, leading to the enforcement of these measures on the ground.
Despite the compliance of the obsequies with the imposed requirements that, unfairly, do not apply to other permissible gatherings in Bahrain, the campaign of tightening the grip on Ashura rituals began on the ground as the Ministry of Interior initiated violations and provocations just days before the Ashura season commenced. In response, Shiite citizens chose not to adhere to these restrictions, anticipating mass participation.
Human rights monitoring by three societies, Bahrain Forum for Human Rights, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, revealed 42 security services violations during the Ashura season, ranging from the sabotage of manifestations to the confiscation of banners and provocative actions by security personnel. The abuses were as follows: (two cases) sabotage of Ashura manifestations, 12 cases of confiscation of Ashura banners, 12 cases of provocative photographing of participants in mourning gatherings and processions, 8 cases of provocative deployment of members of the security services before and after Ashura processions to monitor participants, as well as apprehension of some participants and requesting their IDs, 5 cases of forcing obsequies to follow strict measures for the commemoration of procession rituals, including preventing a number of marches, in addition to 3 other cases of provocative actions.
Incidents were monitored across 25 Bahraini areas, accompanied by 225 raids launched in 50 Bahraini areas, notably in Sanabis, Nuwaidrat, Jidhafs, Al-Daih, and Karana. The raids included 30 in Sanabis, 11 in both Nuwaidrat and Jidhafs, 10 in Al-Daih and Karana areas, and less than 10 raids in a number of different villages.
Interior Ministry forces compelled the removal of religious banners on the first day of Ashura, triggering tensions. The subsequent days witnessed a series of arrests, summonings, and expulsions, highlighting a pattern of crackdowns and curtailments of religious freedoms.
Bahraini citizens will remember an incident that took place on the first day of Ashura when Interior Ministry forces forced the administration of Jablat Habashi obsequy to remove a banner which read "Yazid is a wicked man and wine drinker". A number of religious banners were removed and confiscated in several areas as well.
On the second day, the Interior Ministry expelled Iraqi preacher Sayed Hisham Al-Batat from the country, on the grounds that he did not have the necessary license to participate in Ashura commemoration. Violations continued through summoning a number of citizens in the fourth roundabout area in Hamad city because they hung an Imam Hussein banner atop their homes.
On the third day, the Al-Wefaq Islamic National Society confirmed the arrest of two eulogy reciters Saleh Sahwan and Mahmoud Al-Qalaf after they were summoned to Al-Houra Police Station.
This came as part of a large-scale campaign that included summoning of a large number of citizens in various cities and regions for hanging Husseini flags atop the roofs of their homes, where they were asked to take them down and hand them over to the police station.
In Sanabis, civilian forces affiliated with the Ministry of Interior, chased down participants in a procession as they left the area and stopped them, recording their personal data for no reason. At least seven were reportedly arrested late that night.
On the fourth day, the Interior Ministry summoned eulogy reciter Hasan Nowrouz and about 16 citizens to Al-Houra station.
On the fifth day, the situation didn't change. The security services made direct calls with the heads of the Ma'tams (mourning halls) in the Musalla area, and threatened to take legal measures against them if they insisted on holding mourning processions.
On the sixth day, the attacks on Ashura events included interrogating two Husseini preachers, Sheikh Abdulmohsen Mullah Atiya Al-Jamri, who was summoned to the Muharraq police station, and Sheikh Mohammed Al-Rayash, over Ashura lectures they had delivered. The security authorities decided to prevent the central procession from being staged in Salmabad.
The government played the Coronavirus card again to crack down on Ashura-related events. It decided in accordance with a decision by the medical team to move to the orange stage only on the ninth and tenth days of Muharram, which means limiting the attendance in Ma'tams (mourning halls) to only 30 people. The country was to return to the yellow phase after the 10th day, in an explicit exploitation of anti-COVID-19 measures to harass the Shiite majority.
On the seventh and eight days of Muharram, the security authorities attacked a mourning procession in Hamad Town and arrested two mourners, while troops continued to deploy in the vicinity of some Ma'tams (mourning halls).
Ma'tam administrations criticized such decisions and considered them in violation of safety requirements in the first place, noting that such measures have nothing to do with combating the Coronavirus pandemic, but are rather being imposed in order to restrict the commemoration of Ashura rituals.
As the security authorities persisted in their actions, Al-Wefaq Islamic National Society criticized the decisions, asserting that they violated safety requirements and aimed to restrict Ashura commemoration rather than combat the pandemic. Deputy Secretary General of Al-Wefaq Sheikh Hussein Al-Daihi accused the authorities of promoting religious tolerance while simultaneously impinging on Ashura manifestations.
On the ninth day, the Interior Ministry arrested the head of Al-Dair procession committee Faisal Al-Mo'men, and eulogy reciter Sayed Ahmad Al-Alawi, referring them to the Samaheej police station.
Moreover, the security authorities summoned the administration of Al-Muqashaa Ma'atam to Al-Budai center, and warned them not to stage a central mourning procession in Al-Muqasha as is usually practiced every year. Heads of Musalla Ma'tam were also summoned and threatened about staging mourning processions.
Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim said in a speech on the tenth eve of Muharram that the measures imposed by the Bahraini authorities on the commemoration of Ashura are "a mere political, not sectarian, war".
The commemoration culminated on the 10th day of Muharram, marked by an extensive deployment of troops and vehicles throughout Bahrain. Despite the heavy security presence, citizens widely participated in the ceremony in the capital Manama, where the streets were flooded with mourners.
Several areas in the east, west and south of Manama, as well as Muharraq, witnessed mourning processions and large Husseini mourning gatherings.
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa praised "the efforts of all relevant institutions and agencies, led by the Ministry of Interior."
Post-Ashura, the authorities swiftly returned the country to the green level in terms of COVID-19 actions, reopening everything. However, funeral processions remained restricted in certain areas.
The report, issued by three human rights organizations, criticized the new Prime Minister, Salman bin Hamad, for not yet introducing reforms to address religious discrimination against these citizens, noting that even detainees in Bahraini prisons faced restrictions on practicing religious rituals during Ashura.
The report stated that harassment has affected even detainees in Bahraini prisons, where it was monitored that the Jaw Prison administration prevented detainees from practicing religious rituals during Ashura, twice collectively in building 5 (ward 2) on the first night of Muharram, and in building 12.
This comprehensive overview underscores the complex challenges faced by the Shiite community during the Ashura season of 2021 in Bahrain.