Bahrain: In Complete Disregard to Religious Freedom, Authorities Decide to Turn Site of demolished Historical Mosque into a Park
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses its grave concern regarding the authorities continued and escalated campaign of discrimination against Shiaa Muslims, and attacks on religious freedom. In 2011, the Government of Bahrain demolished numerous Shiaa mosques and places of worship. Despite Hamad Bin Isa AlKhalifa’s promises to rebuild them, the authorities have decided to turn the site of one of these demolished mosques’ into a public park. This is a clear act and an attempt to create further sectarian tensions against one of the main component of the Bahraini society and an attempt to remove their historical links to the land.
In 2011, the government of Bahrain started a brute and mass campaign against pro-democracy protesters, and part of the campaign was demolishing more than 50 Shiaa religious places, including 38 mosques. On 19 April 2011, 10 places of worship were demolished in one day only, including Abou Thir Al Ghiffari mosque. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was fully accepted by Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, investigated 30 of the demolished sites that took place in the period covered by the report.
Photo: map of the site and area of Abou Thir Al Ghiffari mosque
The BICI stated in its report: “The Commission investigators were concerned about the demolition of the ten places of worship in the Nuwaidrat village, Barboura, Middle Municipality. This was the largest number of places of worship to be demolished both in one day and in one single location during the February/March 2011 events.”
Abou Thir Al Ghiffari mosque is a historical mosque which was built prior to the existence of the survey and land registration law (1979). Historian Jasim Hussain Al Abbas estimates the mosque to have been built more than three centuries ago though it has been renewed and rebuilt in the 90s before getting demolished in 2011. It was restored based on official records, and it has an official survey certificate issued on 10 April 2008 with ID 13060248, but authorities claimed it did not have a permit and decided to demolish it during the national safety period (Martial law).
On 27 June 2013, the Ministry of Municipalities announced that the land of the demolished mosque will be turned into a public park . Official documents prior to 2011 do not indicate the illegality of the building or the plan to turn in it into a public park, on the contrary, papers confirm the presence of a mosque. The mosque even had an officially appointed person looking after it by the Ministry of Justice.
On 22 June 2013, security forces banned people from praying on the site of the demolished mosque, a practice that was carried by people during the past two years. The land was surrounded with yellow tape and security forces remain guarding the land since banning any prayers on the site. On 1 July the riot police shot tear gas at people who had gathered in an attempt to pray on the site. Some injuries were reported. On 2 July 2013 a citizen “Mustafa Bahar” was arrested for praying on the site, alone.
The BICI raised concern in its report about the timing of demolishing these mosques, saying:
“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 authorities continuously say that the reason for demolishing these mosques, Abou Thir Al Ghiffari mosque, and 9 other mosque in Nuwaidrat, is having no permit, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Urban Planning, Dr Jumaa Bin Ahmad Al Kaabi gave a completely different reason to the BICI saying that the Ministry of Interior was behind the decision based on security reasons, he stated:
“Nuwaidrat village, Barboura was considered one of the main flash points of riots during the February/March 2011 events. Dr Al Kaabi also said that these sites were labelled by the MoI as dangerous sites where Shia youth gathered, organised and armed themselves.” (BICI – 1324, b)
The BCHR believes that the decision comes as an attempt to escalate tensions with the majority Shiaa. It is a clear provocation to their religious beliefs and is in violation with human rights conventions and laws, the international covenant of civil and political rights states in article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” The conflicting statements by the authorities of the reasons behind the demolition, the timing of the demolition and the governments haste to turn the land into a public park are all strong indications to the fact of the government discrimination based on religious beliefs.
It is important to note here that the Government of Bahrain has for decades implemented a policy of systematic marginalization and discrimination against the Shiaa population; which was document by the Bandargate report as well as past reports issued by the BCHR. Also, recently, a paper was released by the Commission on Foreign Relations about how the Government of Bahrain has worked on creating sectarian tensions in Bahrain http://virtualbahrain.hopto.org/en/node/6206.
Therefore, the BCHR immediately calls on the international community to immediately pressure the Government of Bahrain to:
- Put an end to discrimination based on religious beliefs
- Effective cancel the decision to turn the site of Abou Thir Al Ghiffari mosque into a public park
- Re-build the demolished mosques
- Apologies to the Shiaa in Bahrain for targeting their religious beliefs
Article 18 of the ICCPR provides: ―
1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching...
3) Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others…‖
1335. On 22 May 2011, HM King Hamad announced that new Shia places of worship would be built. The statement was made shortly after several religious structures were demolished by the GoB.
1336. The Commission recommends 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. The Commission welcomes the GoB addressing this question at the earliest possible time.
 The BICI report, footnote 667
 The BICI report, paragraph 1334