Mr. Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, United States
Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary, United Kingdom
Prince Zeid, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
High Representative Ms. Federica Mogherini, European External Action Service
Stavros Lambrinidis, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights
Jan Figel, Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union
4 May 2017
We, the undersigned, write to you in advance of the 7 May 2017 trial of Sheikh Isa Ahmed Qassim, Sheikh Hussain Al-Mahroos and Mirza Al-Obaidli in Bahrain. We urgently request that you publicly call on the Government of Bahrain to drop the politically-motivated charges against these three men, and to call for the reversal of Royal Decree 55/2016, which stripped Sheikh Qassim of his citizenship and rendered him stateless.
The stripping of Sheikh Qassim’s citizenship and his prosecution appear to be reprisals against his expression as a prominent Bahraini figure. Sheikh Qassim is the most senior Shia cleric in Bahrain, holding the rank of Ayatollah. He preaches in Duraz at the Imam Sadiq mosque, the largest Shia mosque in the country, and is seen by the majority of the Shia population as their spiritual leader. Sheikh Qassim was one of twenty-two elected members of the Constitutional Assembly, which in 1972 met, debated and wrote Bahrain’s first constitution. He was a Member of Parliament in the 1973 National Assembly, and following its dissolution in 1975 he directed his energies to his duties as a religious cleric.
The revocation of his citizenship in June 2016 and his continued prosecution in absentia, alongside Sheikh Hussain Al-Mahroos and Mirza Al-Obaidli, constitute violations of his rights to nationality and a fair trial. Moreover, the charges and method of prosecution appear to represent infringements of the freedom of religion.
Sheikh Qassim was rendered stateless by order of the Minister of Interior on 20 June. This was formalised soon after by Royal Decree 55/2016. Since that date, Sheikh Qassim’s hometown of Duraz has been under constant police blockade, and a sit-in outside his house has continued from that date to the present.
In their legal arguments, seen by NGOs, the Public Prosecution has resorted to name-calling against Sheikh Qassim and insulting his followers, stating, “He directed them [his followers] to break the law and to turn against their country and its fortunes,” and describes him as, “one who allowed himself to follow the law of the jungle.” Such language from the state’s prosecution encourages religious intolerance.
His prosecution is alarming not just as a violation of his rights to a fair trial and citizenship, but also for its impact on Bahraini religious freedoms. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedoms’ (USCIRF) latest annual report categorises Bahrain as a Tier 2 country, which is defined as one “in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC [Countries of Particular Concern] standard.” USCIRF found a deterioration in the religious freedoms of Bahrain’s Shia, and highlights Sheikh Qassim’s nationality revocation and prosecution as a key, negative development.
The violation of Sheikh Qassim’s rights has led to further grave violations: On 26 January 2017, masked, plainclothes officers shot live ammunition against the peaceful sit-in outside his home in Duraz, fatally wounding 18-year-old Mustafa Hamdan, who died in March. No government entity has acknowledged responsibility for this attack nor have any independent investigations occurred to date.
The rendering stateless of Sheikh Isa Qassim violates his right to nationality, as enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). His trial in absentia constitutes a violation of his right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 11 of the UDHR and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Further, his prosecution appears to threaten the religious freedoms, enshrined in Article 18 of the UDHR and ICCPR, of both Sheikh Qassim and his followers, as it disrupts their normal religious life without cause.
We urgently request ahead of the 7 May trial that you to call on Bahrain to drop the charges against Sheikh Isa Qassim, Sheikh Hussain Al-Mahroos and Mirza Al-Obaidli, and to reverse Royal Decree 55/2016 which rendered him stateless.
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain