Open Democracy: Bahrain, An Oasis of Religious Freedom in the Middle East?

2018-01-30 - 8:54 p

Bahrain Mirror: In September 2017, one of Bahrain's most prominent young princes, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, traveled to Los Angeles on behalf of his father for what was hailed as an "historic event" for international religious freedom, as he joined Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to sign the Bahrain Declaration of Religious Tolerance and formally launch the King Hamad Global Centre for Interfaith Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence.

In an article published on the Open Democracy website, Husain Abdulla, the founder and executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), said that King Hamad himself followed the event with an editorial in The Washington Times, describing Bahrain as an oasis of religious freedom in the Middle East and summarizing the key tenets of his new declaration.

"But beneath the glamor of Sheikh Nasser's reception at LA's Beverly Wilshire Hotel, or the King's gloss in Beltway newspapers," Abdulla stresses there "is a disturbingly different picture - one that clashes almost diametrically with the mirage of the King Hamad Global Centre."

He notes that the promotional stories for the prince's visit describe him as merely a representative of Bahrain's official charity, youth, and sports organizations, leaving out that Brigadier General Nasser is also a leading figure in the Bahraini security establishment - and directly implicated in the violent suppression of the country's Arab Spring protest movement.

Husain Abdulla, who is originally from Bahrain, further states that as head of the Kingdom's Olympic Committee, Sheikh Nasser created a special commission to carry out reprisals against athletes determined to have participated in demonstrations, adding that "there's credible evidence of his involvement in the crackdown extended beyond supervision. Imprisoned opposition figures - including a religious leader of Bahrain's marginalized Shia Muslim community - have accused the prince of personally torturing them, and, after a Bahraini refugee presented evidence of abuse to British authorities, the High Court in London struck down Sheikh Nasser's immunity from prosecution in the United Kingdom."

"Unlike the UK, the US has taken no steps to open Sheikh Nasser's record to review despite pressure from the human rights community, so he remains free to attend banquets in LA with impunity," he highlights.

Abdulla also points out that the protesters he helped crush were calling for basic human rights - like the right to freedom of religion and self-determination - and this didn't come up on his tour of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance.

The ADHRB founder further stresses that while Bahrain protects the rights of some religious minority groups, "the virtually absolute monarchy has counterintuitively sown sectarian division amongst the country's Muslim majority to undermine the broad based pro-democracy movement. Specifically, it has long disenfranchised and dispossessed the Kingdom's Shia Muslim community - which makes up approximately 60-70 percent of the total citizen population."

"It is for precisely these reasons that the Bahrain Declaration of Religious Tolerance stands in such stark contrast to remarks made by US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, where he cited Bahrain as one of the world's leading violators of the right to freedom of religion or belief."

In clear contravention of the King's new declaration, the State Department found that the Bahraini "government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics, community members, and opposition politicians."

Husain Abdulla indicates that Bahrain's "tolerance" campaign also asserts that religious freedom is a "real solution" to the challenge of terrorism, but the government continues to use heavy-handed and discriminatory counter-terror measures to target peaceful dissent.

Concluding his article, he states sarcastically that Bahrain's royals should be calling for religious freedom around the world - but they ought to start by actually implementing these principles at home.

Arabic Version


المصدر: Bahrain Mirror
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