Bahrain: As Country of Religious Freedoms Should
of Demolishing Holy Places
Until the past few months Bahrain was a beacon of religious freedom,
no citizen or resident of the GCC states was enjoying the same amount
of religious freedom as Bahrain. Despite different opinions on political
issues, Bahrain enjoyed a wide margin of religious freedom for all
Muslims and non- Muslims.
The modern history of Bahrain clearly reveals this fact as well
as the fact that the Bahraini Government offers financial contributions
to all religious groups such as Christians, Jews, Shias, Sunnis,
Hindus and Sikhs. The BICI report pointed this out and said that
Bahrain is an example of ethnic and sectarian coherence compared
to neighbouring countries.
This historic achievement was seriously undermined and Bahrain
was on the brink of a sectarian war and became an oppressive country.
Between the period of 1 March 2011 and 11 May 2011, Shia mosques
and centres were demolished during the peak of the political and
sectarian conflict which left many observers in a state of disbelief.
The BICI report estimated the number of Shia buildings that were
destroyed to be 30. Despite the Government’s claim that these buildings
were used as anti-Government assembly centres and Molotov storages,
the decision to demolish these building was a very bad mistake as
it contributed in turning the political issue into a sectarian conflict
- which is very dangerous.
The issue does not lie in the demolition of buildings which do
not meet legal and administrative requirements. According to section
(1707) of the BICI report, only five of the buildings demolished
met the requirements. However, the problem was in the timing and
the methods used. Section (1330) of the BICI report states that
‘The GoB did not follow the requirements of the national law concerning
the notice and issuance of a judicial order for demolition. Instead,
it relied on the National Safety Law’. The BHRM pointed to this
in our newsletter of June/July 2010 and we said that Bahrain has
undermined its reputation without any benefit. The report also commented
on the timing in section (1334) ‘Nonetheless, the Commission notes
with some concern the timing of demolition (1 March 2011 to 11 May
2011), which relates it to the events of February and March 2011.
The GoB must have been aware of the construction of these structures
and that they lacked proper legal permits and did not conform to
building regulations. Nonetheless, the GoB had not stopped the construction
of these structures nor taken action to remove them for a number
of years. The Government should have realised that under the circumstances,
in particular the timing, the manner in which demolitions were conducted
and 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
Although the Government had a strong case ‘No distinction was
made by the MMAUP between structures constructed on private as opposed
to public land, and demolition was conducted without regard to authorisations
for construction by the Jaafari Waqf. In accordance with applicable
administrative law, notice should have been given requesting that
cause be shown why the given structure should not be demolished,
followed by an administrative hearing to allow a defence to be presented.
This procedure was not followed. Instead, the order was deemed applicable
immediately without providing an opportunity for those who opposed
the demolition to be heard before an administrative body and eventually
before the judiciary’.
It is obvious that the decision was taken without thinking and
appreciating the sensitivity of the matter. Fortunately, the Government
suspended its action. On 22 May 2011, the King announced that new
Shia places of worship will be built. The BICI report also recommended
that ‘a follow up on the King‘s statement to the effect that the
GoB will consider rebuilding, at its expense, some of the demolished
religious structures in accordance with administrative regulations’.
In section (1336) the Commission welcomes the GoB addressing this
question at the earliest possible time.
1/ religious freedom and respecting religions and sects is something
that Bahrain is known for and what took place recently was wrong
and came at a very difficult time for the country.
2/ there is no evidence that the Government intended to punish
the citizens for their religious practices or demolish places of
worships of any religious group intentionally. This makes us believe
that a wrong decision was taken then abandoned even before the establishment
3/ The King not only suggested compensation as a solution to
this non-systematic behaviour, but also other solutions that will
make the Shia happy due to the lucrative amount of compensation.
This hopefully will help the country to return to its former situation
of tolerance and religious diversity. We also hope that official
support for religious places will continue based on royal orders
as in the case in Ashura every year.