Closure of Ulama Signifies Continuation of Systematic Religious Freedom Violations in Bahrain

In the most recent blow to religious freedom in Bahrain, a court today ordered the closure of the Ulama Islamic Council and the liquidation of all its assets following a lawsuit submitted by the Justice Ministry in September 2013. The lawsuit accused the organization of political involvement and illegal operations. The apolitical Ulama Council and its senior clerics, who vowed to ignore what it called an “unjust ruling”, serve as principal guides for religious doctrine and practice for the roughly two thirds of the Bahraini population who are Shia.

As the U.S. State Department’s most recent Bahrain country report noted, this decision is not an isolated violation of religious freedom. Demolition of Shia religious sites, late-night house raids on religious leaders like Sheikh Isa Qassim, and discrimination in hiring practices based on religious preference are tactics frequently used by the Government of Bahrain to inhibit its majority Shia population from gaining influence. The closure of the Council comes on the heels of a recent delegation visit from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that was in the country to assess the Government of Bahrain’s progress on protecting religious freedom in the nearly three years since the 2011 protests.

These religious freedom violations are intimately tied to the systematic suppression of basic human rights that is occurring on the ground and are a clear indication of the deep societal problems that plague Bahrain. The government continues to harass human rights defenders, imprison pro-democracy reformists, and target anyone who dares express a dissenting opinion from the status quo. It is no coincidence that Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights includes freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as the three are inextricably linked. The ongoing violations of these and other basic human rights should be extremely concerning for policy makers in Washington and across the globe.

Earlier this week, Knox Thames, the Director of Policy for USCIRF, stated that religious freedom does not exist in a vacuum and works in concert with US foreign policy interests, noting the direct correlation between government violations of religious freedoms and national instability. As the United States considers expanding its military presence in Bahrain, policy makers must utilize every option available to ensure that violations of religious freedom and other basic human rights do not further destabilize an increasingly troubled nation.


Diala Jadallah is the Director of Advocacy at ADHRB.

Rachel Peterson is the Director of Communications at ADHRB.

الرجاء الضغط هنا لقراءة هذه الرسالة باللغة العربي