Several human rights defenders cite a deliberate Bahraini government policy of intimidation and provocation of the Shiite community, which has, in their view, damaged short and long term chances of a political solution. “It is a catastrophe,” said one. “Rich, poor, active, inactive, all are shaking with fear if they are Shia,” said another. More than 1,000 Shias are estimated to have been suspended from jobs in the public and private sectors.
Shiite places of worship have been attacked and demolished, and young Shiite men are routinely detained for short periods in police stations where they are beaten and humiliated before being released. Others report how, at security checkpoints in March and April, they were asked their religion. If they were Shia they were beaten, or their money and phones stolen.
The Bahraini authorities have bulldozed about 30 Shiite mosques or other religious structures, claiming they are “illegal structures.” Some are mosques, some meeting halls, or mattams, and some are catering halls or food cabins attached to mosques and used at weddings and other major religious events.
One young woman whose father had been tortured told Human Rights First, “The attacks on the mosques are upsetting people more than torture.”
One leading human rights defender told Human Rights First, “Mosques, mattams, and food cabins are being demolished without warning. They come in the middle of the night. Religious documents are left buried in the rubble, and anti-Shiite slogans are written on the walls nearby. Prayer beads and turbas, Shiite prayer stones, are left in the debris.”
He suggested there was a policy of “collective punishment” against the Shiite community and described the government action as “sectarian cleansing” designed to provoke the youth.
Human Rights First met with three men who were seized by policemen while praying in the ruins of a destroyed mosque at the end of April. They told Human Rights First that when the police seized them, they handcuffed them and blindfolded them by pulling their shirts up over their heads. They were each put into separate police vehicles and taken to a police station. All claim they were beaten during the 15-minute journey to the police station where they were properly blindfolded.
Two say they were forced to sing the national anthem, and one to sing a song about the Bahraini prime minister. They told Human Rights First they were made to stand for about three hours, and were verbally abused with sectarian insults.
One said his head was banged against a wall and it bled, and he was asked about people in his village involved with protests. Another said he was told that if he provided three names of villagers who were involved he would be released. At about 1:30 a.m., all three were taken for fingerprinting and to sign statements and pledges not to take part in any protests. One of them is a public employee, and was told that if he went public with his story, he would be fired from his job. The three were released some distance from the village – and without their shoes – at about 2:30 a.m.
Another man told Human Rights First that police approached him around 5:30 p.m. one evening at the end of April and told him to remove Shiite flags from his house. They blindfolded him, took him to a police station, and beat him. “They slapped and punched me very aggressively,” he said. He was also forced to sign a statement without reading it, and threatened with re-arrest if he put the flags back up. He says the police went to his home and forced him to replace the Shiite devotional flags with a Bahraini national flag.