Bahrain Opposition Accuses Government of Demolishing Mosques

Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group said the Sunni-led government has demolished 30 mosques since quelling political unrest in the Persian Gulf nation last month.

The government “can’t justify the demolition,” al-Wefaq said in an e-mailed statement received today. “Any attempt to showcase the measure as a legal action will neither be convincing nor objective,” the opposition bloc said.

Bahrain’s security forces have been arresting activists and others including doctors since riot police drove protesters from their rallying point at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama on March 16. The government declared a three-month state of emergency after Saudi Arabian-led troops arrived to help quell mainly Shiite demands for democracy and civil right inspired by the toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Ministry of Justice said the buildings were “illegal” and “unlicensed” and demolished “to protect houses of worship and maintain their sanctity,” Bahrain News Agency said April 22. Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa said describing the situation “otherwise” was an attempt to “undermine the nation’s image and instigate sedition,” according to the news service.

Bahrain, an island nation, hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Shiites make up about 70 percent of the population of less than 1 million and many retain cultural and family ties with Iran as well as with Muslims of the same sect in Saudi Arabia.

Bloggers, Activists

Other Gulf nations have arrested activists and bloggers in an effort to put down unrest in a region that holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, a member of the Group of 20 leading economies, has detained more than 160 dissidents since February as part of the government’s crackdown on protests, Human Rights Watch said April 20.

“The government’s policies over the mid-term and long-term will be very dangerous for Bahrain’s stability,” Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview from Manama today. “The government has made the crisis more complicated and the gap has grown between the people and the regime.”

More than 30 Bahraini medical workers have disappeared since security forces quelled Shiite-led protests, Physicians for Human Rights said on April 22. The crackdown killed at least 21 people, the Bahrain Human Rights Society said March 22. Activists and opposition leaders, including Ebrahim Sharif, a secular Sunni and head of the National Democratic Action Society, have also been arrested.

The government denies that security forces have attacked hospitals and doctors, the official Bahrain News Agency said yesterday, citing a statement from Huda Nunu, the country’s ambassador in Washington. Medical facilities are “operating normally,” Nunu was cited as saying by the news service.

(Updates with human rights activist comment in seventh paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on the regional unrest.)
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