Bahrain: Dissolving the Islamic Olamaa Council is a New Violation of Religious Liberties and the Right to Form Societies
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” – Article (22) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights condemns the persistence of the Authority in Bahrain in taking measures that will restrict religious liberties and the right to establish societies, and its persistence in provoking a sect of the society by closing down and liquidating the highest religious institute for the Shiite community in Bahrain. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in a court hearing on Wednesday 29 January 2014 to dissolve the Islamic Olamaa Council and liquidating its funds, following a lawsuit from the Minister of Justice that the Council “practices political institutional activities that are immune from any legal control and which deviated in practicing this activity to the extent of incitement of violence”. The Court based its ruling on some of the Council’s statements in which it expressed its support for political and religious bodies or support for the popular revolution for freedom and democracy.[i] This ruling came at a time when the tension between the security authorities and the religious body increased on the subject of the demolished mosques after the Authority had announced that it will change the location of some of these mosques or turning them into other facilities and prevented people from performing prayers in these locations and arrested some of them[ii]. The Authority had demolished more than 30 mosques in 2011 out of revenge for the public revolution.[iii]
Worth mentioning that the Islamic Olamaa Council is a religious body that is not registered among the Law of Associations as required by the Bahraini Law to publicize and give a work permit to the social and political institutes. However, the Court’s ruling was based on the provisions of Law No. 26 of 2005 regarding establishing political societies which allows the Minister of Justice to demand dissolving the political societies and liquidating its funds whenever it commits a grave violation of the provisions of the Constitution and law.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that this ruling is a part of a continuous campaign to restrict and break up non-government organizations and societies since 2011, the most recent was dissolving the Islamic Action Society[iv] in July 2012 and it is a political society that is registered under the political societies’ law. Prior to that was cancelling the elections of the Bahrain Lawyers’ Society and replacing its elected board of administration in December 2011, and dissolving the Teacher’s Association and suspending the board of directors of Bahrain Medical Society in April 2011.[v]
It also dissolved the highest religious body that represents the Shiite sect in the country in the scope of the policy of systematic discrimination against the sect. It also constitutes a blatant violation of Article (18) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that, “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 Strategic Affairs Advisor at the Cabinet “Salah Al-Bandar” revealed in a confidential report published in 2006 and known as “Al Bandar Report”the mechanisms of eliminating the Shiite sect such as distribution of power and wealth and the religious and cultural condition in the country.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the US, UK, UN and all the regime’s close allies and relevant international institutes to:
- Put pressure on the Authority in Bahrain to take into account and maintain human rights especially those related to freedom of religion and practicing rituals.
- Trialing Bahrain internationally for the continuous and repetitive violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which it had endorsed and its violations of what it had pledged.
It also calls on the Authority in Bahrain to:
- Stop targeting religious freedoms;
- Respect the right to establish societies and stop assaulting and battling non-government institutes;
- Put an end to the policy of sectarian discrimination.
The regime forces alongside the Peninsula Shield Forces carried out a campaign to demolish the mosques of the Shiite sect in 2011 after suppressing the massive protest in the Pearl Roundabout and declaring a state of emergency which established a new era of suppression and abuse against the Bahraini people. That period beheld demolishing approximately 35 Shiite mosques[vi], and among them were historical mosques that were more than 400 years old in defiance and provocation of the feelings of a sect of a society. The report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)[vii] – Bassioni’s Committee that was appointed by Bahrain’s ruler Hamad Al-Khalifa - indicated that demolishing mosques is considered a collective punishment that targets 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 GoB and the Shia population”.[viii]
Every now and then Bahrain is witnessing clear incitements of the history of the original people and its sect, where several mosques were subjected to deliberate shots and vandalism[ix], and some of them were targeted with teargas merely out of revenge and vengeance. The Authority in Bahrain promotes sectarian incitement by fabricating cases that aim at making the components of the society clash among each other as had happened in the case of the alleged bombing in Riffa[x] mosque. This had happened in several occasions in religious processions, the last of these was obstructing a mourning (Azza) procession on 20 December 2013 when the people holding the procession were commemorating a Shiite occasion[xi].
[viii] BICI report, clause 1334