Bahrain Monitor - A Monthly Newsletter on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain

Bahrain: As Country of Religious Freedoms Should
Rectify Mistakes 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 population.’

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.

Summary:

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 of BICI.

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.