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Bahrain Government Renews Crackdown on Religious Rituals

Sanabis, Bahrain. 17th October 2015 -- Third night of the month of Muharram, Shia Muslims revive the memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammed,  in the village of Sanabis, west of the capital Manama. Photograph by Sayed Hashim. Copyright: Demotix

Sanabis, Bahrain. 17th October 2015 — Third night of the month of Muharram, Shia Muslims revive the memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammed, in the village of Sanabis, west of the capital Manama. Photograph by Sayed Hashim. Copyright: Demotix

Bahrain's streets are boiling again as the government cracked down on angry protesters with buckshot and tear gas today, October 20. It all started when security forces appeared in the village of Malkiya, West of Manama, to remove black flags and banners that were put up to mark the commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a champion of justice in the Islamic history.

Security forces then marched on to the nearby villages of Sadad and Karzakan and then to Sanabis to destroy flags and banners put up in villages across Bahrain and the old suq area in the capital Manama to mark Ashura, which is marked on the 10th day of the Arabic month of Muharram. In Bahrain, and other countries with huge Shia populations, the period of mourning extends for two months. In this period, black banners and signs carrying sayings of Imam Hussain adorn walls and roadsides, especially in areas where processions marking the occasion pass.

In 2011, at the beginning of widespread Arab Spring-like protests which engulfed the country, authorities destroyed 38 Shia mosques, seen by many as a direct attack on the freedom of Shia in the country to practice their rites and rituals.

Columnist Kassim Hussain tweets today's clashes to his 45K followers:

Clashes in Malkiya and Karzakan, in the west of Bahrain, and in Sanabis, west of [the capital] Manama, as security forces remove Ashoura banners

Photographs and video footage circulated on social media showed injuries among the protesters, who tried to thwart security forces from removing the banners. Reema Al Shallan tweets to her 29.6K followers photographs of today's injuries:

Buckshot wounds and excessive suppression with suffocating tear gas just because people refused the removal of Ashura banners in Malkiya

The chaos quickly moved to a neighboring village, Karzakan, as a number of youth came out to prevent the security forces from removing their banners. Hussain Radhi explains:

Riot police forces suppress people in Karzakan now after they refused removal of Ashura banners

Others expressed anger directly on Twitter. Hassan Alsharqi notes:

Stop this farce and attack on [Imam] Hussein's rituals. What happened in Malkiya and Karzakan, no one can imagined this is Bahrain, it's like Saddam's Iraq.

Enas Oun, member of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, shared a photograph of tens of tear gas grenades which she said had been fired at the protesters in the Karzakan today:

Pictures that show the amount of toxic gas and buckshot grenades used to suppress those who took to the streets protesting the removal of black banners

Security forces were filmed removing the banners and flags in other areas around Bahrain over the past few days.

This video footage went top on the #Bahrain timeline as netizens reacted to the news.

The Ashura religious events have been marked by the Bahraini Shia year after year. But as the political crisis continues between the government and the people, mainly the Shia community, intimidation is very likely to bolster the problem.

The Ashura rituals are a religious and historic heritage of Shia in Bahrain which goes back to hundreds of years, and the constitution has ensured it in Article 22

Jawad Fairooz, a former member of parliament who is now stateless and in exile, said:

Bahrain's modern history has not seen war on Ashura manifestations as seen today.

Bahrain is a tiny island in the Gulf where Shia are the majority, but they are complaining of political and social disenfranchisement. Over the past four and half years, it has been swinging in a political stalemate. Talks between the government and opposition factions have led to no positive outcomes. Today, most opposition leaders and figures are in jail.

You can also read: Bahrain's Opposition, From Dialogue Tables to Prison Cells

Shia religious places and mosques were also reported to have been attacked by gunmen as the annual Ashura commemoration approached. Activists criticized the government for not taking the attacks seriously.

Clergyman Shaikh Maytham Al Salman notes:

Is there any seriousness in holding those who demolished 38 mosques, and raided Jawad stores 78 times and shot at Al Sadiq Mosque and Al Baqer mosque and at the Hamala and Dimistan matams accountable?

The Jawad chain of stores, owned by a Shia family, has been attacked and robbed 78 times. Until today, those responsible for the attacks, some caught on camera, have not been punished. A matam or Hussainiya is a place a gathering hall for Shia, to observe Shia rituals like commemorating Ashura.

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