Bahrain: Open discussion of religion must not be criminalised

Bahrain: Open discussion of religion must not be criminalised - Civic Space

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ARTICLE 19 calls on Bahraini authorities to immediately drop all charges against three religious reformers and members of the AlTajdeed Society, a cultural institution, who are prosecuted for allegedly questioning the foundations of Islam. We also call on the Bahrain government to amend its criminal law provisions on defamation of religion and bring all its legislation in compliance with international freedom of expression standards. It must also take urgent action against those attacking Al-Tajdeed Society and ensure protection of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief for all in the country.

Jalal Al Qassab, Mohammed Redha, and Redha Rajab are members of the Al-Tajdeed Society, which advocates open discussion and questioning about religion and Islamic jurisprudence. They posted a series of posts on social media that debated Quranic interpretations entrenched in Bahraini society and disputed the opinions of Islamic scholars on a range of topics. They have been subsequently charged under Articles 309 and 310 of the Bahrain Criminal Code, which criminalise “ridiculing” any of Bahrain’s “recognized religious texts.” They are to be tried on 30 March 2023 and face a possible one-year prison sentence.

ARTICLE 19 reminds Bahraini law enforcement authorities that laws seeking to prevent discussion and debate on religion are fundamentally incompatible with international human rights law. Such laws violate a number of legally binding provisions on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, equality, and freedom from discrimination. We also point out that human right treaties protect the rights of individual persons and, in some instances, of groups and persons, but not abstract entities such as values, religions, beliefs, ideas, or symbols.  These treaties do not allow for restrictions to be placed on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression for the purposes of ensuring respect for “recognised religious texts” or protecting them from ridicule. Such laws should therefore be repealed and Bahrain must immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against the members of the Al-Tajdeed Society and put an end to its harassment of them.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that the Al Tajdeed members have been subjects of severe attacks and incitement from some powerful religious leaders in Bahrain during Friday prayers and religious seminars. The Bahraini authorities have been tolerating these attacks, violating their responsibility to protect religious minorities from discrimination, hostility, or violence. We call on the authorities to ensure that all members of Bahraini society can fully exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of religion or belief in accordance with Bahrain’s international commitments.