The deployment of the Covid-19 pandemic for religious persecution – A report on Ashura 2020 in Bahrain
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Since 2011, the Bahraini government has persisted in its transformation of the occasion of Ashura – and, in a more general manner, the months of Muharram and Safar of the Islamic hijri year – into an occasion whereby it can exercise its policy of collective punishment on the Shiite citizens of its population through the methodical restraint of religious manifestation and practice of rites.
The violations thus far have been wide and varied, all malleable to fit the dominant political and legal situations of the specific period. Of the many forms the violations took were the severe restrictions on prisoners who wanted to exercise their religious rites, the obtrusion of religious displays such as signs or any public display of grief; that is, making it hard to participate in the external dress – whether of items or people – in the black of mourning. Several reciters (ruwadeed) and administrators of Hussainiyat were arrested and investigated by security forces regarding the content of their speeches and elegies. In an attempt to prevent the mass prayer on the night of Ashura in the country’s capital, many of the preachers had their speech censored. Some of the preachers had their sermons contested and criminalized due to a lack of consensus on fact relating to Islamic history. Harassments were not only related to speech; many of the violations escalated in their intensity: several funeral processions were attacked with teargas bombs or expanding bullets. What remains a constant element underlying all these instances is their intentionality: they are borne out of a deliberate state-sanctioned political statement that is part of a system and not one individual’s sole behavior.