Sheikh Maytham Al Salman, Head of Religious Freedom Unit in the Bahrain Human Rights Monitor (BHRM) said, “The sectarian separation/segregation policy in Bahrain is deliberate of the Government and not a result of the social tension or the religious differences”. His statement was made during a symposium on religious intolerance in the United Nations’ Palace of Nations.
Framing the democratic demands in sectarianism
Al Salman said, “Since the 14th of February, 2011 the government of Bahrain has extensively practiced sectarian seclusion and sectarian blaspheme. These practices add on to its long lasting sectarian discrimination practices that have denied the majority of Bahrainis their rights based on their religious, ethnic and sectarian background. Sectarian Framing in Bahrain is a deliberate regime strategy rather than being a secretion of social tensions”.
Al Salman presented his vision on the nonviolent protests that erupted on 14 February 2011. He said this was a result of the authority’s failure to live up to its pledge to transfer the political system into a constitutional monarchy in which the people are the source of all powers as the National Action Charter stated in 2001.
The National Action Charter ended the popular uprising of the 90s to bring back constitutional life after a 26 year suspension.
He added that the authority has failed to transfer Bahrain into a civil democratic state over the past ten years.
“This frustration and disappointment has built up over a short period of time because the violations had not stopped. And because grounds have not been created for fair representation of all society factions. In addition to the failure to address sectarian attitudes.
Al Salman also explained how the 14 Feb revolution began in 2011, assuring that the people peacefully called for democratic reform and national unity.
“Although the majority of protesters were Shiites, given the structure of the population in Bahrain, the protesters firmly insisted to represent both sects. Their slogans called for democracy, human rights and fair representation for all Bahrainis regardless of ethnicity or sect or belief. The protests were a protraction of the Arab Springs in Tunisia and Egypt”, he said.
The Bahraini government has not only responded with a violent brutal crackdown but they have also encouraged sectarianism through igniting social distrust, suspicion and hatred amongst Bahrainis. This strategy was aimed at fragmenting the democratic movement and building domestic and international alignments that would legitimize the violent crackdown on democratic reformers.
This strategy aimed to rip apart the democratic movement and build local and international alliances and sectarian siding in order to legitimize the brutal repression against the demands for power-sharing and democratic reform.
Anti-Shi’ism has spread throughout Bahrain in a limited time span due to the utilization of official media and governmentally financed media to broadcast the culture of sectarian intolerance, noting that Bahrain only has one independent newspaper.
The campaign of framing Bahraini Shias has also spread to the neighboring gulf media who participated with the official media in Bahrain in framing Shia’s as:
4- Unpatriotic, and other degrading disesteemed social frames.
This campaign has unfortunately led to anchor a culture of Religious Intolerance amongst some Bahrainis
The sectarian framing strategy encouraged by the government of Bahrain has resulted in systematic Violations of human rights that led to killings, imprisonment, job suspensions, etc. During the 27 months after the crackdown, reliable domestic and international reports including USCIRF annual report have confirmed that the government of Bahrain practices systematic sectarianism.
The Culture of Religious Intolerance
Religious intolerance exists in environments whereby a group ( a society, religious group, non-religious group, political group) refuses to tolerate practices, persons or beliefs of another group based on religious grounds rather than social or political grounds
Although The United Nations upholds the right to free expression of religious belief in articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and forbids discrimination on the basis of religion in article 2, the government of Bahrain has continuously violated article 2, 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . The Government has succeeded tremendously in fragmenting the society and igniting hatred between both sects in order to delay democracy in Bahrain as much as possible. The culture of Religious intolerance has also enabled the regime to socially legitimize Religious discrimination within certain social circles. As a result, many Hardliners today do not see a problem in valuing or treating fellow Bahrainis differently because of the sect they belong to.
The culture of Religious Intolerance has also been instrumented to legitimize Religious Persecution where by Bahrainis have been imprisoned, tortured and killed for on the basis of their religious identity
Furthermore, this Culture has created a suitable platform for the growth of Extremism. The images of al-Qaeda flags been lifted by pro governmental Extremists in different public locations since February 14th 2011. This is a clear indicator that local extremist groups have strengthened themselves and reinforced their positions within the Government and within social networks. The culture of Religious Intolerance encouraged by the Government has evidentially aided in turning Bahrain into an ideal environment for Extremism. The Government has nationalized thousands of mercenaries from countries where Extremism has a strong hold like Pakistan, Yemen and Syria. Many social analyst strongly argue that this has indirectly led to the infusion of Extremism within the country.
The culture of Religious Intolerance has also motivated more than 70 pro government hard-line clerics to oppose the construction of churches in Bahrain complex claiming that it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula noting that this is a clear contradiction to the history of openness, tolerance, and acceptance of religious and cultural plurality in Bahrain. Its a pity to see Bahrain head in this direction after it has been long regarded as the best Gulf model of coexistence and respect between different religions and sects. Bahrain was always distinguished model of respect between mosques and churches.
I would like to take this opportunity to call for reinforcing the importance of seeing the “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” implemented all over the world including Bahrain. The Government of Bahrain has systematically practiced discrimination against its own people on the basis of their ethnicity, religion or sect instead of promoting intercultural understanding and social peace. It is the responsibility of the Government to build a culture of peace and to put an end to impunity, systematic human rights violations and ongoing sectarian discrimination. Unfortunately the government has utilized official media to ignite sectarian hatred instead of prohibiting the incitement of sectarian hatred. This is clearly regarded as a violation to The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that states that “any advocacy of racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. It is also a clear violation to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) that prohibits all incitement of racism.
Therefore, I believe it is time for the international community to exert more pressure on Bahrain to promote a culture of religious neutrality in the field of civil and political rights. International Bodies should also monitor Bahrain more closely to create full awareness of discriminatory acts committed by the Government. We are looking forward to end all forms of human rights violations which are driven by race, ethnicity, religion or sect, however the time needed to achieve this goal will be greatly shortened if the international community including the human rights council exert more pressure on Bahrain to respect International Human Rights Laws.