Bahrain Mirror: The US State Department issued its annual report on international religious freedom, 2017, which comprised a chapter on Bahrain.
The report highlighted at the beginning that most estimates state that the Shia constitute a majority (55 to 60 percent) of Bahtain's citizen population.
Detailing the religious freedoms situation in the country, the report said that the Government of Bahrain "continued to question, detain, and arrest clerics, community members, and opposition politicians associated with the Shia community."
The US report noted that on May 21, Sheikh Isa Qassim, identified by the media as the leading Shia cleric in the country (who had been confined under de facto house arrest), and two of his employees received a one-year suspended sentence in absentia for money laundering and collecting funds without a government license, adding that the government had targeted Qassim due to his prominent status in the Shia community, since his office had collected the money and spent the funds in accordance with Shia customs and obligations, known as khums.
The report further pointed out that "because religion and political affiliation were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity."
"Courts sentenced several Shia clerics to prison terms for participating in the demonstrations in support of Qassim."
The State Department also stated in its report that the Bahraini authorities generally permitted prisoners to practice their religion, adding however that International human rights organizations published reports stating Shia prisoners were vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and mistreatment by prison guards because of their religious affiliation.
According to the report, the Bahraini government during the year reported 452 licensed Sunni mosques and 91 Sunni community centers, while the number of licensed Shia places of worship
remained at 608 mosques and 618 ma'atams (Shia prayer houses, sometimes called
husseiniyas in other countries).
"Observers reported that, in new housing developments, there continued to be a disproportionately large number of Sunni mosques, which they said showed continued government favoritism toward Sunni Muslims. The government stated that determining whether the mosque was Sunni or Shia in new housing developments depended on the needs and demographics of the new residents."
The government again reported no significant reconstruction work had been done on the three remaining Shia mosques from the 30 it had damaged or destroyed in 2011. The government pledged to do the reconstruction in compliance with the recommendations of an independent fact-finding commission established by the king in 2011.
The report highlighted that NGOs reported the government showed disparate treatment of Shia versus Sunni individuals and stated this different treatment fueled perceptions among the Shia community of a justice system stacked against them. "For example, several times during the year the government reported it had investigated a number of officials from the mostly-Sunni police and military services for breaking the law or violating official procedures, but the government did not name any of the individuals, including those who had been convicted of crimes, were in jail, or had been removed from their positions. On the other hand, the Public Prosecution Office, the MOI, and the state-run Bahrain News Agency sometimes published names and pictures of Shia who were convicted of crimes, although not explicitly stating their religious affiliation, and at times published their names before the persons were indicted."
According to Shia leaders and community activists, the government continued to provide Sunni citizens preference for government positions, including as teachers, and especially in the managerial ranks of the civil service and military.
Human rights activists reported discrimination against Shia in education continued. Activists said interview panels for university scholarships continued to ask about students' political views and family background. The government said their scholarships remained competitive, but some applicants not selected said their being passed over was due to discrimination. Rights activists said many top scoring Shia applicants continued to receive scholarship offers in less lucrative or
less prestigious fields. There were continued reports of the MOE refusing to recognize the foreign degrees of some students. Some activists said these refusals disproportionately affected Shia students.
Speaking of the labour market, representatives of the Shia community reported the higher unemployment rate and lower socioeconomic status of Shia were exacerbated by continued discrimination against Shia in the private as well as the public sectors and added to tensions between the Shia and Sunni communities.
The report further pointed out that the U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. government officials, and U.S. embassy officers met with government officials to urge them to end discrimination against Shia in employment and education; to pursue reconciliation between the government and Shia communities; and to allow prisoners to practice their religions.
In August the Secretary of State called on the government to "stop discriminating against the Shia communities." U.S. officials also continued to advocate for the government to pursue political reforms, which would take into consideration the needs of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation.