Bahrain Press Association criticized the crackdown practiced by the Bahraini authorities during the month of Muharram and their tight restrictions on freedom of expression in the country.
The London-based association said in its statement on September 22, 2019, that “through cracking down on the freedoms related to religious beliefs, Bahrain shows its utmost cruelty in confronting society and its safeguarded freedoms.”
The statement said that “the security authorities in Bahrain summoned head of Ma’atem, preachers and eulogy citers for investigation in a new crackdown on freedom of opinion and expression. The security apparatus investigated dozens of preachers and eulogy citers over poems they delivered in Ashura occasion. Shia in Bahrain annually commemorate the first ten days of Muharram month, the anniversary of martyrdom of Shiite’s third Imam, Imam Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talb [PBUH].”
“The questions of investigators focused on the content of poems and sermons. They also warned the preachers of consequences of bringing historical issues to the political reality in Bahrain. Sheikh Isa Eid, Sheikh Fadhel Al-Zaki, Sheikh Abdulmohsen Al-Jamri, Sheikh Mounir Maatouk and Sheikh Isa Al-Moemen were among the summoned clerics,” the statement read.
A relative of Sheikh Isa Al-Moemen said that the investigation focused on the dua’a which Al-Moemen usually recites at the end of his religious sermons, explaining that the authorities investigated him for a long time over his prayers to God pleading that prisoners are freed and every stranger returns to his homeland.
According to the statement “the authorities didn’t bring official charges, in most of the cases, against those summoned. However, they threatened to sue them in case they tackled “critical local affairs” even by intimation.”
The statement stressed that “this is not the first time the Bahraini authorities violate rights of Shiite citizens in commemorating the annual religious occasion.”
The US State Department confirmed in its international religious freedom report issued in June 2019 that the government “continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics and community members,” indicating that a number of clerics were detained over the content of their sermons during the commemoration of Ashura in September 2018.
The association said that “the authorities don’t allow Bahrainis to discuss social and political cases in assemblies. They have been banning every form of assembly since years”
The BPA sees that “this crackdown is the latest in the ongoing security campaign led by the authorities against freedoms in the country.” The reality of freedom of expression in Bahrain has deteriorated since the authorities, with the help of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, succeeded in crushing popular protests in March 2011 in the context of the so-called Arab Spring.
The Bahrain Press Association finds that these security measures violate the local and international Bahraini obligations to respect the right to express opinions.