This morning, Monday 22 May, Bahraini Sheikh Muhammad Sanqour, Imam of the largest Shia Jummah prayers in Imam Sadiq Grand Mosque in Diraz, was summoned by police after speaking out on the fate of prisoners assaulted at Jau Prison & calling for the release of prisoners during Friday prayers given on 19 May 2023.
Sheikh Sanquor was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID), and a few hours after his attendance, The Ministry of Interior issued a statement on their website, referring his case to the Public Prosecution Office (OPP) claiming he had “repeated inflammatory speeches that included legal violations”. Their statement claimed Sheikh Sanquor had previously been warned. His arrest appears to be related to his remarks calling for the release of political prisoners.
“After repeating inciting speeches and warning him… One of the mosque preachers was referred to the Public Prosecution and the Investigation Department confirms:
‘the clock cannot be turned back”
The General Department of Investigation and Criminal Evidence confirmed that one of the mosque preachers, “Mohammed Sanqour”, was summoned after he repeated inflammatory speeches that included legal violations, including insulting the authorities and publicly inciting hatred and contempt for a group of people, pointing out that he had previously warned the aforementioned of what he was doing. Accordingly, the prescribed legal measures have been taken, and the case has been referred to the Public Prosecution.
The General Directorate of Investigation and Criminal Evidence stated that Bahrain is a state of law and institutions, and deals firmly with any transgressions that constitute a violation of civil peace and the social fabric, as the clock cannot be turned back, noting that the security and stability that the Kingdom of Bahrain enjoys today has cost the nation A lot, and everyone must preserve the important security and national gains that have been achieved.”
The Jumma prayers at which Sheikh Sanqour gave his remarks are the most prominent in the country for Shia Muslims in Bahrain. This action taken by Bahrain’s government represents a serious escalation against the majority Shia population, risks inflaming sectarian tensions and is a flagrant violation of freedom of religion.
The summon and subsequent arrest appear to be directly related to Sheikh Sanquor’s call for the release of political prisoners.
BIRD strongly denounces Sheikh Sanquor’s arrest which marks a blatant disregard for freedom of speech and religion, and demands the immediate release of Sheikh Sanqour, along with the dismissal of any existing or potential charges brought against him over his support for political prisoners.
In Sheikh Al-Sanqur’s speech given on the 19th of May, 2023, as part of his speech, he stated the following (Watch video):
“We call upon the relevant authorities to reassure the families of prisoners about their loved ones, as it has come to their knowledge that a number of prisoners have been subjected to abuse and physical violence. Some have been subjected to isolation, solitary confinement, and deprivation of adequate health care.
We also urge the authorities to reassure the public and the families of prisoners about their sons (the prisoners), through allowing phone calls and facilitating visitations, not only through brief statements, especially since some statements have been very brief and caused concern.
We also call for closing this humanitarian concern by releasing all prisoners.
Closing this chapter has a significant impact on spreading an atmosphere of optimism and relieving tension.”
BIRD analysis of the context of these comments
On 15 May 2023, Interior Ministry issued a brief statement in response to reports of assault against prisoners on death row, this statement caused further concerns by their families who tweeted against it and reflected their emotions about this issue. On the same day the families also issued a public statement expressing their concerns about the well-being of their loved ones, see English and Arabic versions of the statement.
Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, Director, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy commented:
“Arresting one of the top Shia clerics in the country over his Friday prayers speech reveals the truth about the authorities’ claim of religious tolerance and freedom of religion. Sheikh Al-Sanqour is one of many cases of the persecution of Shia religious clerics who dares to speak inconvenient truth to those in power. We call on the government to release him immediately, end this censorship and guarantee freedom of expression and religion.”