Sheikh Salman: EU must act against religious discrimination in Bahrain

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - A leading Bahraini Shiite cleric and the head of the Religious Freedom unit at the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, told European lawmakers that religious based discrimination in his home country is “systematic” and dates back decades.

Speaking during a committee hearing at the European Parliament on Wednesday, Sheikh Salman warned that discrimination against Bahrain’s Shiite majority has only intensified since 2011.

Calling on Brussels to press Manama over its “fostering [of] inter-religious tensions”, Sheikh Salman also asked the European Union to encourage “appropriate action against all forms of intolerance and discrimination” in Bahrain.

“In August, 2016 a group of UN experts including the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief published a public statement which states that the systematic harassment of the Shiite population by the authorities in Bahrain, including stripping many of them of citizenship, is deeply concerning,” he said.

The cleric unveiled extensive data exposing Manama’s targeting of Shiites “on the basis of their religion”.

Bahrainis make up less than half of the kingdom’s population with Shiite Muslims constituting 65% of that total.

But those statistics are not reflected in the number of Shiites serving in the country’s legislature and judiciary where only 14% of government employees are from the Shiite community. A meager 12% of jobs in the judiciary are held by Shiites.

Moreover, Bahrain’s Cassation Court, High Criminal Courts and Minor Criminal Courts do not employ a single Shiite. In other sections of the judiciary, the numbers are equally alarming, with Shiite employees never making up more than 20% of the workforce.

According to Sheikh Salman, these statistics underscore the “practice of discrimination in the judicial authority.”

Meanwhile, the Shiites, who make-up roughly 65% of the total number of school students, are strictly taught a “Sunni curriculum”.

“Shiites are forced to learn the principles of the respected Sunni doctrine in the official curriculum … [and] are banned from their religious education,” he added.

The cleric explained that Bahrain was at risk of slipping into sectarian violence following the demolition of 38 Shiite mosques in 2011 by Manama’s security forces. However, the highest Shiite religious authority in Bahrain, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, insured that there was no retaliation.

Sheikh Salman reminded his audience that Ayatollah Qassim has since been placed under house arrest and called on the EU to push for his release.

He also urged EU pressure to ensure Manama frees all political prisoners and fully implements the recommendations from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

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