MANAMA (AFP) – Bahrain has decided to reassert state control over the kingdom’s mosques after charging Shiite opposition activists with plotting to overthrow the Sunni government, official media reported on Monday.
“Regaining control of the pulpits so they are not hostage to incompetent politicians or clerics who have lost their way… is the starting point for developing a sound religious orientation,” Crown Prince Salman said in comments carried by the official BNA news agency.
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa said the government would ensure that places of worship are run by those who promote “the values of tolerance and moderation,” BNA said.
The two officials’ comments came in messages addressed to King Hamad on Sunday, a day after prosecutors pressed terrorism charges against the Shiite activists, raising tension in the run-up to an October 23 general election.
According to a charge sheet released on Saturday, the 23 activists — 10 of them prominent opposition figures — stand accused of “undermining national security.” Two of them, who live in London, are being tried in absentia.
Most of the suspects are members of Haq — the Movement of Liberties and Democracy — a Shiite group which rejected as inadequate reforms intended to put an end to Shiite-led unrest that rocked the 35-island archipelago through the 1990s.
Those reforms, enshrined in a 2002 charter, converted the emirate into a constitutional monarchy but Haq boycotted parliamentary elections in 2006 and intends to do the same next month.
The arrests have raised tensions between the government and the mainstream Shiite opposition which took part in the 2006 election, winning 17 of the 40 seats in parliament.
Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the Islamic National Accord Association, warned last month that they would “lead to more protests.”
He mocked the authorities’ accusations against those arrested saying they could not have all belonged to a single secret organisation as they had different opinions.