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Human Rights Watch: Shia Majority in Bahrain Suffers Discrimination

According to Human Rights Watch, the Shia majority in Bahrain faces discrimination, highlighting the religious persecution the Al Khalifa regime practises.

The organization stated that Bahraini authorities have systematically targeted Shia religious figures and violently arrested numerous human rights activists from Shia backgrounds. Among them is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, arrested in April 2011 and sentenced to life imprisonment in a mass trial under Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law.

According to the organization, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council continue using vague counterterrorism laws provisions to suppress opposition and target religious minorities.

Counterterrorism laws in Gulf Cooperation Council countries often involve loosely defined and vague accusations and definitions of terrorism. These are used as general provisions to punish peaceful dissenters, political activists, and human rights defenders.

The international organization also commented on the recent execution of two Bahraini Shia men by Saudi authorities. Amnesty International described their trial as a “grossly unfair trial” on terrorism-related charges.

According to Amnesty International, Jaafar Sultan and Saadik Thamer were arrested in May 2015 and held incommunicado for over three months. The charges against them include allegations of smuggling explosives into Saudi Arabia and participating in protests in Bahrain.

The two Bahrainis were tried and sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court, which has a notorious reputation in Saudi Arabia, in October 2021 for charges related to protests falling under Saudi’s anti-terrorism law.

The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia has long suffered systematic discrimination and has been targeted with state-sponsored hate speech.
On March 12, 2022, Saudi authorities executed 81 men, with 41 of them reportedly belonging to the Shia minority, under the guise of counterterrorism law, despite promises to reduce the use of the death penalty.

Other Gulf countries have also exploited vague terrorism charges. For example, the United Arab Emirates sentenced Khalifa Abdulrahman Al-Rumeithi to 15 years on terrorism-related charges following an extremely unfair trial known as the “UAE 94,” which involved mass trials of 94 government critics. Al-Rumeithi was recently deported from Jordan to the UAE.

Human Rights Watch has documented long-standing violations of due process and fair trial rights in Saudi Arabia’s criminal justice system, making it highly unlikely for Sultan and Thamer to receive a fair trial before their execution.

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