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Bahrain should stop persecution of Shi’a Muslims and return its citizenship to their spiritual leader

GENEVA (24 April 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, today urged the Government of Bahrain to stop the harassment and persecution of the most senior religious leader of the Bahraini Shi’a Muslim community, who was reportedly forced to leave his country following threats from state security agents to arrest him and his son.

“I have received information from reliable sources that on 23 April Hussain Mirza Abdelbaqi Najati was forced to leave his own country for Lebanon after being exposed to enormous pressure and harassment by the authorities,” the human rights expert said.

Following Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior own statement, issued on its website on 23 April, it appears that the decision revoking Mr. Najati’s Bahraini citizenship and the orders to expel him from the country may have been made due to his position as a senior and influential religious authority among Shi’a believers, who make up the majority of the population.

“I have expressed to the Government of Bahrain my grave concerns at what appears to be an act of religiously motivated discrimination which would seem to impose unjustified restrictions on Mr. Najati’s fundamental human rights, including his right to practice and profess peacefully his religious beliefs,” Mr. Bielefeldt stressed, warning that the case may have far-reaching implications for Shi’s Muslim community in the country.

“Targeting the most senior and influential Shi’a religious figure in Bahrain may amount to intimidating and thus discriminating against the entire Shi’a Muslim community in the country because of its religious beliefs,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

Mr. Najati is one of 31 individuals whose Bahraini citizenship was revoked on 7 November 2012 by the decision of the Ministry of Interior, a decision that rendered him stateless. In this regard the UN expert urged the Government to reverse its decision, which appears to be arbitrary, and to facilitate Mr. Najati’s return from Lebanon.

“International law, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, prohibits arbitrary deprivation of nationality, including on religious grounds,” the expert noted. “Discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“I understand that Mr. Najati has consistently refrained from engaging into politics, and has maintained his position and activities strictly in the realm of his religion,” the Special Rapporteur said. “He is not known to have advocated violence or its use, or to have committed acts that would undermine national security or public order, nor has he been charged or sentenced for committing such acts.”

Heiner Bielefeldt assumed his mandate on 1 August 2010. As Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, he is independent from any government, and acts in his individual capacity. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx

Check the latest Special Rapporteur’s report on tackling manifestations of collective religious hatred: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Pages/ListReports.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
Sharof Azizov (+41 22 917 9748 / sazizov@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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