A Bahraini human rights group has censured the ruling Al Khalifah regime over its heavy-handed crackdown on freedom of religion in the kingdom, saying Manama is increasingly targeting Shia Muslim clerics and religious figures.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), in a statement released on Friday, expressed grave concern over the alarming repression of human rights advocates and prosecution of a large number of clergymen in the country.
The BCHR pointed to the rise in the summons and interrogations of clerics, saying the measures are part of an intimidation campaign aimed at stifling the religious freedom of Shia preachers and their right to free speech.
It also called on the Al Khalifah regime to comply with the international human rights regulations, and allow UN rights experts to visit Bahrain.
On June 16, Shia Muslim clerics in Bahrain stopped holding congregational prayers in the country in protest at the repressive policies of Al Khalifah regime.
The clerics, in a statement titled “Those Barred from Praying” released on Thursday, condemned the Bahraini regime’s efforts to restrict Shia Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief, describing the situation in the country as “deplorable.”
A riot policeman watches clashes between police and Bahraini anti-regime protesters in the western village of Shahrakan, April 5, 2016. ©AP
The statement said that the Al Khalifah regime’s systematic suppression of Bahraini Shia Muslims has reached its highest level ever.
Members of the kingdom’s largest religious community feel insecure, facing threats of arrest and prosecution if they seek to observe their religious rituals, primarily congregational prayers and Friday prayers, it added.
Last Tuesday, Bahrain suspended all the activities of the country’s main Shia opposition movement, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.
Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman has been in prison since December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the regime and collaborating with foreign powers, which he has strongly denied.
On May 30, Bahrain’s Supreme Court of Appeal increased Salman’s prison sentence to nine years from the original four.
Since February 14, 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on an almost daily basis in Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifah family to relinquish power.
In March that year, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protests.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the Bahraini crackdown on the anti-regime activists.