The USCIRF categorises Bahrain as “Tier 2” country in its 2019 Annual Report

Bahrain USCIRF 2018

On 29 April 2019, the United State Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report for the year 2019. Bahrain has been categorised as a “Tier 2” country for the third year in a row, due to the systematic religious freedom violations ongoing in the country.

The USCIRF visited Bahrain in March 2019 and reported that in the last year some progress have been made to guarantee freedom of belief. On the other hand, the main issue when it comes to religious freedom conditions is the discriminatory treatment that the government has reserved to the Shia community living in the country. Shia Muslims face discrimination and repression only on the basis of their religious identity. They are prevented from participating in the political life, as it occurred in the November 2018 elections for the lower house of parliament and after the al-Wefaq dissolution in 2016.

Moreover, Bahrain security officials often hinder Shia Muslims from peacefully observing Shia rituals. Shia worshippers and clerics face harassment and have also been arrested for “illegal gatherings”. The report specially highlights the ongoing harassment carried out by security forces towards Shia clerics during the Ashura commemorations.

In addition, Shia people are mostly discriminated in military and security departments. They are excluded from serving in military and even administrative positions. As a matter of fact, no Shia Muslim cover an upper role in the Bahraini government security apparatus, nor in the military or police.

All in all, the USCIRF report makes an overview on the systematic discriminations towards Shia people, from the restrictions in participating in the country’s political life, to the concerning violations of religious  freedom. In this context, the European Union is active on its advocacy work to support human rights in Bahrain including the rights of religious minorities and more generally the respect of religious freedom.

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) welcomes the USCIRF report and the positive development registered in Bahrain. Nevertheless, ECDHR acknowledges the ongoing violations on the right of religious freedom and strongly condemns them, especially those towards Shia Muslims. Moreover, it calls upon the Bahraini government to cease discriminations based on religious identity.