In Bahrain, a sermon about oppression leads to criminal charges of “inciting hatred”

In an unsurprising move, on 28 August, a Bahraini judge postponed for the second time the trial of Sheikh Isa al-Moamen to 28 September. On 6 August, Bahraini security forces arrested the Shia cleric in regards to a sermon he had given. The following day authorities interrogated him and have since held Sheikh al-Moamen at Dry Dock detention center. Sheikh al-Moamen’s lawyer submitted a request to the prosecution on 9 August asking for the Sheikh to be released for medical reasons. A medical examination shows sheikh al-Moamen suffers from a herniated disk in his back and neck. Despite this request, Sheikh al-Moamen health’s continues to deteriorate in prison as he awaits his trial.

Sheikh al-Moamen is facing up to three years in prison on charges based off of a sermon he delivered. In clear violation of his freedom of speech, the Government of Bahrain accuses him of “inciting hatred against the regime,” a charge which has repeatedly been levied against religious leaders and human rights defenders in the kingdom. Upon review of the Sheikh’s sermon, no references can be found to support this “inciting hatred” charge. Rather the sermon was a reflection of the current climate in Bahrain: a climate of repression by the Bahraini authorities against the Shia population. Sheikh al-Moamen discussed the increasing number of prisoners in Bahrain, so much so that the kingdom is building new prisons to house them. He remarked on authorities’ attempts to intimidate the population, to silence activism, and to stop the popular, peaceful movement for human rights. Further, he commented on the arrest of Sayed Majeed Misha’al, a Shia cleric and president of the now dissolved Islamic Ulamaa Council (IUC). Sheikh al-Moamen was also on the council’s board of directors. As with Sheikh al Moamen, Bahraini authorities accused Sayed Majeed of “inciting hatred” in addition to the charge of illegal gathering. On 31 August, Bahraini authorities sentenced Sayed Majeed to two years in prison for participating in the peaceful sit-in in Duraz.

Sheikh Al-Moamen is just one of a number of Shia clerics that are being targeted by the Government of Bahrain. In a summer of increased repression, Bahraini authorities have summoned and interrogated over 50 clerics in clear attempts to intimidate the Shia community. The escalating situation in Bahrain has reached unprecedented levels. In response, five United Nations Special Procedures issued a joint statement calling for an end to the “persecution” of Bahrain’s Shia community, noting, “Shias are clearly being targeted on the basis of their religion.”  The Bahraini government’s targeting of Shia clerics, activists, and human rights defenders exemplifies its complete disregard for human rights in Bahrain and instead displays the government’s commitment to a policy of repression.


Mobashra Tazamal is an Advocacy Fellow at ADHRB