In a new, escalatory move by Bahraini authorities aimed at opposition forces, the Administrative Court decided yesterday [Jan. 29] to dissolve the Islamic Scholars Council, which includes a number of prominent Bahraini Shiite scholars who support the opposition, and ordered the liquidation of its assets.
The court ruling came against the backdrop of a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, against the Islamic Scholars Council in September 2013. At the time, the ministry petitioned for "the liquidation of the council's assets and the closure of its headquarters considering it is an illegal organization that was established in violation of the provisions of the constitution and the law." The lawsuit further accused the members of the council of "exploiting it to conduct political activities under the cover of religious sectarianism."
The council was founded in 2004 under the leadership of the prominent Bahraini Shiite religious scholar Issa Qassem, the most revered of Shiite clerics in Bahrain.
In the first reaction to the ruling, the scholars council said, “The scholars will remain uninterested in such unjust decisions, which embody a dark page in the history of Bahrain’s judiciary and its political authorities.”
The head of the Sharia Commission of the Shiite Islamic Scholars Council’s Central Committee, Sheikh Fadel al-Zaki, described the decision to As-Safir as “a political gambit that will further complicate the attainment of a political solution in Bahrain.” Zaki stressed, “It is only natural, logical, as well as a duty and a mandate for the Muslim community to take a stance vis-a-vis such steps adopted against a well-known, prominent and respected institution.”
He added, “Targeting such an institution as this, is akin to targeting all of religion, which cannot be tolerated. This ruling is political par excellence and based on maliciously blatant accusations. It aims to limit scholarly functions, intrudes upon religious affairs, and represents an abominable form of sectarian targeting that comes to supplement the other forms of sectarian targeting that have been incessant and ongoing for years.”
The secretary of the Bahraini Islamic Scholars Council’s Central Committee, Mohsen al-Grifi, told As-Safir that the crackdown imposed on the scholars council by judicial authorities aimed at “increasing pressure on the opposition to abandon some political demands, through the targeting of the country’s largest religious institution.”
Concerning the reasons behind the Justice Ministry’s lawsuit against the Islamic Scholars Council, Grifi said, “There are two motives. First is the increased targeting of the sect lately, through the targeting of mosques, rituals and religious assets. … Such targeting is not new. The escalatory move came in this context, and it falls in line with the trend adopted by some official departments. The second motive relates to the fact that the state has tried, since the inception of the council, and through pressure and a media campaign against it, to tighten the noose around it. But these measures failed to achieve their goal of putting an end to its activities. Therefore, the last option available to the regime was to resort to the courts, taking into account the fact that current circumstances facilitated the adoption of such rulings.”
The Religious Freedoms Unit at the Bahrain Observatory for Human Rights issued an urgent appeal to the United Nations and concerned international bodies to defend religious freedoms, describing the decision as arbitrary and politically motivated.
The head of the unit, Sheikh Maytham al-Salman, described the ruling as “further proof of the Bahraini government’s shameful record of human rights violations for religious and sectarian motives.” He further considered the verdict “a blatant transgression against religious freedoms, as well as all domestic and international laws. By dissolving the council, the Bahraini government declared war on the Shiites. Yet, the council and its members will continue to focus on national unity and civil coexistence, while stressing the need to reject violence, extremism and terrorism.”
In addition, the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights described the dissolution of the council as reflecting “the worst forms of sectarian persecution and the taking of political revenge against the Shiite community.”
In turn, the Islamic National Accord Association, the largest opposition faction in Bahrain, stated, “The Bahraini regime declared war against its Shiite constituents by adopting a reckless and politically motivated decision issued by its courts to dissolve the Islamic Scholars Council … which exposes the level of loathsome sectarian-based actions by the regime against the Shiites, as a result of their religious ideologies.”
Opposition groups also condemned the decision to dissolve the scholars council, considering it “part of the political and sectarian efforts to punish the council for its pro-liberties and pro-reform stances.” They warned that this ruling “would further complicate matters, increase the level of tension in the country, as well as affect civil peace and social stability.”
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