WASHINGTON, November 13, 2014- Shia Rights Watch released a video documenting one of the many disruptions of Ashura commemorations by Bahraini security forces. Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, is the Islamic day of commemoration of the new year.
The five minute video shows scores of Shia civilians storming out of a mosque as the building fills with smoke from tear gas canisters. Women are seen wailing and coughing as they reel from this unexpected attack.
The scenes in this video are consistent with other videos which show Bahraini security forces using tear gas to disperse Shia mourners earlier that day. In these videos, large black tanks can be seen shooting tear gas canisters.
Media sources report that the Bahraini government-approved crackdown against Shia over the last several years has left more than 100 dead and resulted in the arrest of thousands of others.
Video footage documents the complicity of security forces, which make no effort to stop the assault. Officers do not attempt to apprehend the culprits; instead, they throw tear gas into the mosque and flee the scene.
The actions by Bahraini security forces are a clear violation of Article 5 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Article 5 is further refined for law enforcement purposes in the International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement where it states “non-violent means are to be attempted first” and “force is to be used only for lawful law enforcement purposes”.
There were no peaceful measures taken prior to the attacks, and there was no legal justification for this display of force.
The day of Ashura which falls on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram is the anniversary of the battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed after protesting the rule of the Umayyad dynasty which came to power after his father Ali ibn Abi Talib was killed.
Shia view the life and death of Imam Hussein as one that was in pursuit of justice, and it is for that reason that Shia around the world use Ashura to renew their calls for justice within their countries. Sunni governments and militant groups are well aware of this event, and use it to unleash attacks on these groups.
What these groups fail to see is that their attacks only further legitimize the calls of these groups for equality and religious freedom. Whereas five years ago the world largely tuned a blind eye to the concerns of Shia in Bahrain, today we see a greater focus on the developments of the situation on the ground there as larger media companies such as Vice are now touting a presence in the country with their recent documentary which was released on November 10th.
The calls of Shia for equal rights will not be ignored although major players in the international arena may turn a blind eye. Despite attacks and additional setbacks, it seems that the non-violent movement in Bahrain will continue to fight for justice.