Bahrain's official tally shows cost to Shiites of mosques crackdown

McClatchy NewspapersMay 30, 2011 

BAGHDAD — Bahrain's Sunni Muslim government demolished or seriously damaged 43 Shiite Muslim mosques or religious structures during its crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, according to an official tally compiled by the state-supported endowment that oversees Shiite sacred buildings.

Twenty-eight mosques were completely leveled, of which 10 had been historic structures, according to the list, which the Awaqf endowment posted last week on its website. Another seven were seriously damaged, of which two were historic, according to the list.

The endowment, which the government helps fund and which reports directly to Bahrain's minister of justice and Islamic affairs, also said that two Shiite cemeteries had been vandalized and that eight "ma'atems" — multi-purpose structures which often function as funeral parlors — had been damaged. One of those was historic, the endowment said.

All of the religious structures had been properly registered with the government, according to the list.

That assertion directly contradicts Bahraini government claims that any religious buildings destroyed in the crackdown had been built illegally in recent years.

"These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings," Bahrain's minister of justice and Islamic affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al Khalifa, told McClatchy in a May 2 interview. "You cannot build a place of worship on land taken by force or illegally."

There was no official explanation for why the endowment had posted the list. One Bahraini familiar with the issue said it may have been in response to a request for details of the destruction from Bahrain's monarch, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, after President Barack Obama criticized Bahraini actions in a speech earlier this month.

Sheikh Khalid did not respond to requests for comment, and Awaqf officials also declined to speak to McClatchy.

Among the structures listed as damaged was the Sasa'a bin Sawhan Mosque in the city of Askar, a mosque dating back to shortly after the death of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Awaqf list did not specify the damage at the Sasa'a bin Sawhan mosque, but a Bahrain resident, at McClatchy's request, visited the mosque and reported that the windows were broken, posters of Bahrain's royal family now plaster the front entrance, and the air conditioning system had been vandalized.

McClatchy first reported on the systematic destruction of Shiite mosques on May 8. The destroyed mosques included the 400-year-old Amir Mohammed Braighi mosque in Aali and all 10 mosques in the village of Nwaidrat, including the historic Mo'men mosque. The Awaqf list confirmed the McClatchy report.

President Obama criticized the destruction in his May 19 speech on the Arab spring. "Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain," Obama said.

Responding to Obama's remarks, a senior Bahrain government official told McClatchy that day that there were "more facts than he had addressed."

In Bahrain, "we still have more Shiite mosques and Ma'atems than Sunni mosques, and we have Buddhist temples and a standing synagogue," according to the official, who asked not to be identified because he was giving his personal view.

But Bahrain human rights activists said Obama's remarks came as a shock to the royal court and may have moved the government to halt its campaign.

"There have been no incidents of destruction for the last 10 days," said one member of a municipal council in northern Bahrain who asked not to identified out of concern for his own safety.

That, however, was not the case with the cemeteries. McClatchy special correspondent Sheera Frenkel reports that on Wednesday she witnessed the destruction of a cemetery in a Shiite village northwest of the capital and that she saw the aftermath of an assault on another in a different village.

In Bani Jamrah, she said, a tractor was visible from the town's main road. It had broken through the walls of the ancient burial ground, and was plowing through tombstones. Several people watched silently from cars.

In Deih, locals said tractors had come in the pre-dawn hours. Youths in the village had already sprayed graffiti on the walls opposite the cemetery. A portrait of the king with wrinkles across his face and an exaggerated nose appeared alongside the English words, "Freedom for all."

(Special correspondent Laith Hammoudi in Baghdad and Sheera Frenkel in Bahrain contributed to this report.)

ON THE WEB

Official list of destroyed and damaged Shiite mosques and religious structures (in Arabic)

Google map showing location of some of the destroyed mosques

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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