Parachinar: Post-Conflict Remunerations

For Shia Muslims, the Holy month of Ramadan is a month of fear and anxiety as attacks on Shia congregations are prevalent. Terror Organizations feed on already existing anti-Shia sentiment to encourage suicide bombings.

On June 23rd, twin blasts went off in northwestern Pakistan. The city of Parachinar became the home to over 60 civilian deaths. The attacks took place in busy areas of town- one in a central bus station and another in the Toori Bazaar Market. On that same day, another explosion detonated in a Quetta police checkpoint killing 14 people. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, two prominent terror groups claiming responsibility for the attacks, strategically aimed their attacks on areas densely populated with Shia Muslims in the final days of Ramadan. The nature of attacks and their timing points to the groups’ goals of dehumanizing Pakistan’s Shia populations. To these hate-inciting groups, the motto “Ramadan Kareem” (Generous Ramadan) does not apply to the Shia minority as they are not regarded as part of the Islamic religion.

Over 300 people in total were critically injured as a result of attacks in Parachinar and Quetta- Shia Rights Watch anticipates a rise in death toll.

Anti-Shiism in Pakistan has an extensive history, and despite the authorities denouncement of violence, anti-Shiism remains as high as ever. Attacks on Shia congregations in Ramadan are not new, and despite official’s promise of increased security for this population, not much has been done to prevent attacks.

With close analysis, one can see a trend of authority involvement after cases of anti-Shiism, and that in response to immense and widespread Shia protests. It’s also important to note that Shia populations are most dense in geopolitically important areas of Pakistan and chaos in those regions create regional distress.

After the Parachinar terror attacks, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on provincial governor Iqbal Zafar to distribute monetary compensation to victims and their families. Those injured were given Rs 500,000 (appx. 5,000 USD), and family of those killed were given Rs 1,000,000 (appx 9,000 USD) checks. With money, the Pakistani government momentarily called for peace in the districts, but anyone looking at trends of violence in Pakistan can tell that attacks in the Shia community are nowhere near over.

The fact that two terror organizations were able to join and collaborate so extensively (as seen in these attacks) points to widespread systemic violence in the nation. Pakistani officials have done little regarding violence prevention and anti-hate education. Educational material that denounces Shia Islam and public speakers who call for the marginalization of Shia Muslims remain in circulation. Until Pakistani officials can work to reduce anti-Shia sentiment, violence will continue.

Shia Rights Watch (SRW) calls on regional authorities to recognize anti-Shiism as a leading cause of instability. Further, SRW demands Pakistani authorities not only focus their aids in post-conflict compensation but to understand the roots of violence in the nation as a form of violence prevention.

SRW applauds the Shia Pakistani community for their unity and activism in demanding recognition of their rights. Also, SRW condemns any act of violence towards or against Shia Muslims and offers its condolences for those bereaved by acts of anti-Shiism.

Unraveling Centuries of Power

In the month of June, five Shia Muslims were reported killed on the basis of their religion every day. Note, this statistic is based on incidents reported to Shia Rights Watch, and that from only six countries.  In the past decade, cases of anti-Shiism have become more and more evident in the news and social media.

One reason may be that with the development of communication mediums, minority populations have become more confident in their efforts for recognition. Easy communication, namely through the internet has allowed minority communities to join in their struggles. What was once 10% of the population can now be 50% of the world. Next, the internet has made public scrutiny of non-humanitarian endeavors difficult. When a nation commits a crime against humanity within its borders, the open flow of information opens doors to the international critic. Although efforts to limit Internet availability and communication censorship in various anti-Shia nations, the influence of technology cannot be undermined in the newfound wave of human rights campaigns in the world.

Toby Matthiesen, the author of The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent, and Sectarianism, once noted that to document political dissent and social unrest, one need not travel to conflicting nations. One can obtain the majority of his information through TV and social media outlets streaming from the conflict zone.

In addition to providing coverage for conflict, communication developments augment and empower equality building endeavors. During the Arab Spring, the international community stood witness to the numerous nations that had a change of regimes. The public and free flow of information through social media outlets allowed for grassroots members of the international community, you and me to be involved. We have first-hand information, minutes after major incidents. Such grassroots involvement allowed for international dichotomies to become permanent points in global history. Knowing details of non-human events enabled us to question the role of major political entities in diplomacy and criticize nations that stood for democracy in one nation, but opposed it in another.

In addition to international involvement, the internet allowed domestic awareness. In the case of Gulf countries, Shia Muslims recognized their membership as global citizens and were empowered by their ability to report and spread incidents of anti-Shiism in their nations. While many Gulf countries limit internet access and use media expression as grounds for arrests, complete censorship on the web is physically impossible.  Next, marginalized populations became aware of their domestic and regional resources. For instance, the Shia of Pakistan like in key strategic locations in the country. Unrest in those areas not only destabilizes the nation and makes it susceptible to foreign powers, but it also threatens the region as a whole. In one case, a community of Shia Muslims refused to bury their loved ones after a terror attack in protest the government’s lack of response. Days later, the prime minister himself traveled to that region to meet the small community and personally listen to grievances after neighboring nations threatened to pull trade deals in fear. Digital communication allowed for the small community to join and come to realize their power of persuasion.

As time goes by, the reduced need to raise arms in the struggle against tyranny becomes apparent. While some may think to achieve equality through media and technology is naïve, campaigns on the internet have proven to be permanently archived and broader in outreach. Social media post and news coverage may not be immediately responsive, but they remove the limitations of borders and allows the human race to join as one force against the bad and ugly. Modern communication mediums allow grassroots populations to develop a “human” narrative- one that is open sourced and free from political bias (mostly).

Who is Responsible?

Mapping Responsible Parties of Anti-Shia Violence from January – July 2015

Since the beginning of 2015, Shia Rights Watch has collected data on incidences of anti-shi’ism around the world. By our records and reports there have been a total of 2,959 Shia killed and 3,662 wounded in various bombings, attacks, and shootings in the seven months beginning January 1st and going until the end of July. Additional incidences of mosques being vandalized or demolished, citizenships being revoked, hate speeches, employment discriminati
on, and abductions have also been reported.

Of these events, various parties have declared responsibility for attacks that have claimed a total of 1,209 lives and left 1,281 wounded. Governments, as well as terror groups, have been responsible for many attacks and were named as responsible parties in instances of citizenship removal, illegal incarcerations, and violent suppression of peaceful attacks.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed thirty of the attacks that have occurred this year and are responsible for over  1,016 of the deaths recorded to date.

The group has claimed two of the largest attacks of 2015: the March 20th mosque attacks in Sana’a Yemen which resulted in 142 deaths with 350 wounded, and the July 18 bombing of Ramadan celebrations in Diyala, Iraq which resulted in the death of 120 men, women, and children, leaving 130 more wounded. The terrorist group also claimed responsibility for the Kuwait suicide bombings that took place at a Shia mosque as worshippers were gathered for prayer. This attack left 27 dead and 227 wounded. Moreover, on May 28th a mass grave was discovered in territory former controlled by ISIS. Over 470, mostly Shia, bodies were discovered.

More recently, there have been five bombings in late July that many officials are attributing to ISIS, although nobody from the organization has released a statement confirming their involvement yet. Between July 10 and July 25 there were 4 bombing attacks in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq, as well as a suicide bombing at a crowded swimming pool in Northern Iraq that targeted the Shia Turkmen minority. Combined these attacks left 81 dead and 180 wounded. The method and location of attacks is consistent with previous ISIS attacks and due to the recentness of the events it is too early to rule out ISIS involvement.

In recent months it has become clear that ISIS is one of the primary sources of chaos in the region. However, the Taliban is still very active in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since January 1st the terrorist group has claimed six attacks. The January 9th attack on a mosque in Rawalpindi resulted in 7 deaths followed by the February 13th attack in Peshwar that left 19 dead and 60 wounded. On June 10th the group abducted nine Shia in Damarda Afghanistan and forty-five days later on July 25th they kidnapped eighteen more Hazara Shia from Baghlan Afghanistan. Since the second abduction five victims have been released and negotiators are still working to get the rest home safely. While these attacks are heinous in nature the worst of the Taliban attacks occurred on June 20th as they beheaded six Shia Hazaras in Ajristan, Afghanistan. The New York Times suggests that in light of the growing media attention on ISIS’s attacks, the Taliban is plotting equally shocking attacks in order to gain recognition and media coverage as well.

While incidences of hate speech, discrimination, and forced denouncement of faith have been reported against the Egyptian, Indonesian, Nigerian, Saudi Arabian, and Pakistani governments, the Kingdom of Bahrain is by far the government currently carrying out the most attacks against Shia. 153 Shia protestors have been arrests including Sheikh Ali Salman who was arrested June 16 for tweeting about regime change, opposition leader Majeed Milad who was arrested July 2, and prominent opposition member Ibrahim Sharif who was arrested July 12. By March 11th there had been 155 recorded instances of mistreated Shia detainees in government custody – a number we expect to have increased since. These arrests all come after the 15 October 2014 death sentence of Shia Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia, whose appeal was denied by Saudi Arabia authorities on March of 2015.

Moreover, The Bahraini government has stripped 72 people of their right to citizenship, 50 of which were confirmed members of the opposition.  Security forces have used violence to suppress at least three large protests resulting in one child being injured due to tear gas exposure as well as a thirteen year old boy being shot in the face by regime forces. Numerous home raids have occurred without cause and upwards of 46 Shia have been beaten. Prominent Bahraini Cleric Jalal al-Sharqi made a public statement on May 12th that denounced Shi’ism by accusing Shias of not believing in Allah and calling them Jewish and underserving of mercy.

A full list of groups taking responsibility for attacks includes: Al-Nusra Front (1), ASJ-TTP (1), Ahlus Sunnah wal Jammah (2), Bahraini government (18), Bahraini civilian militia (1), Egyptian government (2), Indonesian government (1), ISIS (30), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (1), Judallah (2), Lashkar-e-Jhaqui (1), Madagascar Police (1), Nigerian citizen (1), Nigerian Military (1), Punjab government in Pakistan (1), Saudi Arabian Authorities (2), Saudi-led coalition (10, Sipah-e-Sahaba (4), Somolian Mayor (1), Extremist Militia connected to ISIS (1), Tabliban (6), United Arab Emirates government (1).  This is a list to date of reported and confirmed instances of anti-shi’ism where there is a party clearly responsible for the attack. There are still countless unreported, unconfirmed, or unclaimed attacks that have occurred in the first seven months of 2015.

Date Responsible Party details Dead Wounded Arrests
28-Jul Al-Nusra Front Shooting at shrine in Damascus 2
7-Feb ASJ-TTP Habib Hussain was ambushed and killed 1
6-Jul ASWJ Quetta, Pakistan – open fire on 3 Hazara Shia 3 2
7-Jul ASWJ Quetta, Pakistan – Syed Hashim (Hazara) gunned down walking home 1
5-Feb Bahraini Government 72 people stripped of citizenship, 50 confirmed from the Shia Opposition Party
12-Jun Bahraini Government 57 Shia jailed, stripped of nationality, given sentences of 3 years to life 57
16-Jun Bahraini Government Sheikh Ali Salman sentenced to 4 years for tweeting about regime change 1
2-Jul Bahraini Government Majeed Milad, senior opposition, arrested because of accusations against the gov’t 1
11-Jul Bahraini Government Protest Suppression – tear gas
12-Jul Bahraini Government Arrest opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif 1
13-Jul Bahraini Government conducted raids in the districts of Karanah and al-Diraz
16-Feb Bahraini Civilian Militia Sitra, Bahrain one was arrested for insulting the king 1
12-Jan Bahraini Government 45 people beaten
30-Jan Bahraini Government Regime forces shot 13 year old boy in the face
13-Feb Bahraini Government Protest Suppression including 3 home invasions 48 20
17-Feb Bahraini Government Protest Suppression: Child received head injury after exposure to tear gas 1
18-Feb Bahraini Government 1 beaten by government forces
11-Mar Bahraini Government Numerous home raids resulted in 15 arrests 15
11-Mar Bahraini Government Between Jan 1 and March 11 reports of 155 mistreated detainees
22-Apr Bahraini Government 91 protesters arrested 91
12-May Bahraini Government Jalal al-Sharqi denounced Shia saying they do not believe in Allah, are Jewish, and deserve no mercy
14-May Bahraini Government Upheld Nabeel Rajab’s 6 month sentence for insulting public institutions
15-May Dr. Abdussamael Uma Doctor in Ayuba Nigeria wrote a letter the Nigerian President warning against Shia
30-Apr Egyptian Government Shut down kindergarten in Nile Delta Province for ‘promoting Shia ideology’
12-May Egyptian Government Physician sentence to 6 months for blasphemy, attempting to cause sectarian violence, and threatening national security because practicing Shia
11-Mar Indonesia Government 34 Shia prisoners forced to recant faith
18-Jan ISIS Bomb in Tuz, Iraq targeting Shia 13 25
8-Feb ISIS ISIS demolishes Shia shrine in Shifaa, Iraq
23-Feb ISIS Bombings destroyed 12 Shia homes in Monsul, Iraq
28-Feb ISIS Balad Ruz bombing 11 50
28-Feb ISIS Sabaa Al Bour mortar shells 3
9-Mar ISIS Larkana, Pakistan – vandalized on internal and external buildings
14-Mar ISIS 27+ bodies discovered in a mass grave near Shia town of Basheer, Iraq 27+
20-Mar ISIS Bomb went off in Sanaa Yemen. 3 mosques targeted 142 350
29-Mar ISIS beheaded 8 with the aid of child soldi3ers 8
6-Apr ISIS 2 bodies found in Zabul, Afghanistan 2
8-May ISIS Bombing in Balad Ruz 18 41
8-May ISIS Car bomb detonated  a worshippers left Imam Hussein mosque in Kanaan Iraq 4 18
8-May ISIS Bombing targeting commercial buildings in Hamamiyat neighborhood on Taji, Iraq 2 8
12-May ISIS Shia pilgrims targeted throughout the day in Baghdad 15 38
14-May ISIS Multiple car bombs around Baghdad targeting Shia 15 42
22-May ISIS Bomb at mosque in Qatif, Saudi Arabia as prayers were read 21 80+
22-May ISIS Targets 2 Yemeni mosques 13+
24-May ISIS Iraqi soldier executed then hung from bridge 1
28-May ISIS In former ISIS territory a mass grave with 470 (mostly Shia) bodies 470
29-May ISIS Immam Hussein Mosque in Damman, Saudi Arabia. Bomber dressed as woman 4 10
1-Jun ISIS Suicide bomber attacks police base in Anbar, Iraq 45 33
7-Jun ISIS Idlib, Syria – Air Strike killed 14 + 15 year old girls` 2 10
15-Jun ISIS Car bomb in Qahira, Baghdad 10 20
17-Jun ISIS 4 car bombs targeting Zaydi mosques during evening prayer in Sana’a, Yemen 31
20-Jun ISIS Car bomb in Sana’a, Yemen at Qabat al-Mandi mosque 2 6
26-Jun ISIS Kuwait suicide bombing at mosque 27 227
8-Jul ISIS Car bomb outside mosque in Sana’a, Yemen 1 5
18-Jul ISIS Khan Bani Saad, Iraq bombings at a market in Diyala celebrating end of Ramadan 120 130
20-Jul ISIS Attack bombing in mosque in Sana’a, Yemen 5 7
29-Jul ISIS IED attack on Ismali Mosque in Sana’a Yemen 4 6
16-May ISIS & Taliban Conflict Shia police officer shot in Karachi, Pakistan 1
22-Jul  ISIS blamed al-Shaab car bomb in Iraq 8 22
10-Jul ISIS blamed Series of bombs in Baghdad 14 41
12-Jul ISIS blamed Series of bombs in Baghdad 29 81
22-Jul ISIS blamed Al-Bayaa car bomb in Iraq 18 36
25-Jul ISIS blamed Suicide bombers attack busy pool in Northern Iraq targeting Shia Turkmen minority 12
7-Apr Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan Beheaded 1 in Afghanistan with aid from Taliban 1
18-Feb Jundallah Suicide bomb in Rawalpindi, Pakistan 2 7
30-Jan Jundullah Bombing in Islamabad 60 50
7-Jun Lashkar-e-Jhaqvi Shooting in Quelta, Pakistan 5
20-Apr Madagascar Police Arrested 3 including the head of a Shia mosque for no apparent reason 3
25-Jul Nigeria military Military Personnel involved in killing 34 peaceful Shia Protestors 34
2-Mar Punjab Government Arrested Shia leader Allama Ghulam Raza in Lahore Pakistan
21-Apr Saudi Authorities 1 dead in shooting in Qatif, Saudi Arabia 1
15-Jul Saudi Authorities Khobar, Saudi Arabia – Shia man arrested and lashed for hosting weekly prayer meeting 1
30-Mar Saudi-led Coalition Airstike in Mazraq, Hajja Governorate – no apparent military target in the area 29 41
7-Jan Sipah-e-Sahaba Shooting in Karachi, Pakistan 3
31-Jan Sipah-e-Sahaba 70 year old Shia man in Pakistan shot 1
18-Feb Sipah-e-Sahaba Shooting in Karachi Pakistan 2
11-Mar Sipah-e-Sahaba Shooting at the Khan Hotel in Kotla Jam, Pakistan 3
5-May Somalia Mayor Mayor of Mogadishu denounced Shi’ism and swore to fight the spread at any cost
10-Feb Extremist Militia connected to ISIS Bombing in Baghdad 14 43
9-Jan Taliban Rawalpindi, Pakistan bombing – attack on a Mosque 7
13-Feb Taliban Peshwar, Pakistan – bombing and shooting 19 60
2-Apr Taliban Damarda, Afghanistan 9 Shia abducted
20-Apr Taliban Beheaded 6 Shia Hazaras in Ajristan, Afghanistan 6
10-Jun Taliban Police officer gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan 1
25-Jul Taliban 18 Hazra Shias kidnapped in Baghlan, Afghanistan. Released 5 already
13-Mar UAE Government Deporting 62 Lebanese Shia

Children in Bahrain: From Playground to Prison

Shia Rights Watch paper in #HRC29 Side Event; “Children in Bahrain From Playground to Prison”


Childhood moments are meant to produce memories of carefree enjoyment. At the same time childhood experience cultivates the foundations of our education of society, and builds our understanding of the socio-structures of how to build upon our hopes to become adults who can participate in a meaningful and productive way in our communities, and to forge our own futures with the energetic exuberance that comes with youth, towards the ‘tomorrow‘ of the next generation.

It is not hard to understand that unlike other country’s future generations, Bahrain’s children have suffered from a wide and hideous range of psychological and physical health setbacks due to the continuous violence perpetrated against them.

Sadly neither the government of Bahrain nor the international community fully realize that without the future generation there will be no possibility for the great country that they enthusiastically hope for.

The consequence of the relentless and sustained oppression targeted at children has caused many to lose their lives and many others to live with debilitating medical problems directly associated with the inhumane treatment committed against them.

Considering the size of the population there are per capita so many who have faced discrimination, arrest, torture and the traumatic loss of a fellow classmate, or family member. This has left emotional scars and translates to diminished behavioral functionality.

These afore mentioned issues are evident in problematic relationships between them and their siblings and parents, and aggressive behavior at school is also a known factor, given the history of other countries experiences, for their future ability to have healthy interpersonal relationships either with their peers or furthermore into their marriages and relationships with their own children.

This ‘legacy of hurt’, violence and psychological torment is being perpetuated by the Bahraini Regime and their tactical abuse of children in an effort to decimate the culture and socially fragment the Opposition Community.

We have to clearly realize that the amount of violence that children face in that society brings them only anger sadness and anxiety. They worry about their family, they are disillusioned and saddened by the lack of access to a credible education, and they experience anger towards the society that is meant to support and nurture their growth. Now they are left be wildered, and bereft at being imprisoned for seeking respect, dignity and equality for their peers and their family members.

It is of great concern that children are themselves worried about the threat to their ability to have an identity, through the refusal of the regime to issue birth certificates or passports, just as they are unable to attend college and satisfy their right to equal access to education, and to help promote a better society for their fellow citizens.

Not being able to travel and discover the world will, without doubt, lead them to less tolerance and a lack of understanding toward other cultures.

Children who always dreamed of growing up to be a doctor such as Professor McCormack The pediatric doctor who went beyond his field of his expertise to defend the doctors in Bahrain,  an engineer such as Mustafa Akhwand, Founder of Shia Rights Watch who left his work as Computer programmer to defend Shia Rights, an activist like  Tara Raynor O’Grady, Irish activist who didn’t let her cancer destroy her confident and realize that there are many ways to support the people of Bahrain even during  her Chemo trophy, the moments that many people only think about their own health and feeling of their families  or such as many activist who sacrificed their time and effort for Bahrain, now have a dream instead to attend a meal with their family without being worried about potential    suffocation    of one their family members due to indiscriminate blanketing of Tear Gas in their village by regime forces, or their privacy violated and their peace interrupted by someone being dragged out into the street, beaten and removed to a detention centre and God knows what by foreign police paid to suppress the community.

Now, at this moment, it is actually in our hands to either support the regime who are slamming and locking shut all the doors against this targeted generation, or to gather our collective effort to shed light on their oppression and offer them hope towards a better path, the ability to follow their very reasonable and simple dream for freedom and stability.

Moharrams Message for Anti Shia Leaders

In the midst of ISIS intimidation in the area, Shia Muslims unite under the flag of Hussain, the third Shia Imam. Shia populations of Baghdad come together in Moharram to commemorate the death of Imam Hussain, honoring the martyrdom of a man who fought for freedom and justice for all. The unification of the Shia majority has instilled fear in the nation’s Sunni minority. In examination, one must ask how and why a united Shia front instills angst in the Sunni minority of this nation. Despite centuries of discrimination worldwide against Shia practices, Shia still stand for their beliefs and show no sign of backing down. A united front is exactly what this nation needs in response to the massacres carried out by ISIS and other extremist organizations, and while Shia populations strive for unification against such terror groups, they are held under constant criticism.

1.400 years ago, Hussain’s 72 person army stood against the 140,000 army of the oppressive regime of his time in a land called Karbala. Hussains campaign for freedom has withheld the aversion of centuries, inspiring Shia unification against oppression and violence towards humanity. At least for a duration of a month in the year, Shia Muslims openly campaign against the terror of their time, yet as they stand for their beliefs, they are killed and eradicated. In 2014 alone, tens of people were killed all over the world, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, and even in the western nation of Australia. Mourners are targeted and massacred for their show of support for freedom.

Despite their peaceful campaign, Shia alliance is seen as a threat in the eyes of anti-Shia leadership. After centuries of enduring oppression, the Shia majority has finally come to power in Iraq, and still they face great criticism of sectarian support. One may say the enragement of Sunni populations is of a fear that the now in power Shia leaders will do to them as the Sunni leadership did and continues to do to Shia Muslims worldwide. They marginalized the Shia for generations and now they fear revenge. Little do they know, Shia Islam is that of kindness and peace.

Despite living under pressure for thousands of years, they have made it their aim to stand for their rights and are persistent in striving for Democracy. A rise of Shia power means an end to oppressive regimes, and that threatens the dictatorship of many majority Sunni nations. Throughout history, the Shia have proven their peaceful yet persistent opposition of oppressive dictators, Sunni populations have bowed their head to any and every rising regime of power. The flag of Hussain and his campaign for justice should not be that of intimidation but that of hope. Hussain fought for the right to choice, a deserved morale for anyone and everyone, yet by some, Shia fellowship in Moharram is called a support for “sectarianism”.

Hussains venture in Karbala should be examined for what it truly was: a stand for integrity. Moharram provides an opportunity to reexamine our values towards human rights and inspires us to withstand the tyrant of our time. Commemorations during this holy month is not that of intimidation, but a reminder for all to unite in the fight for human rights.

Therefore, our message for Anti-Shia leaders is to stop feeling threatened by this commemoration but instead join the effort to stop radicalization in their states.

By Zhara Akhwand

November 14, 2014

Five Question and Answers about “ Call to Arm” in Iraq

On Friday the 13th Ayatollah Ali Sisitani’s representative, Mortaza Kishmiri, urged Iraqis to take up arms in order to defend their country and protect religious Shrines. Since then, many Shia, both men and women, put on military uniforms and joined the Iraqi Army. This article aims to answers five important questions about what is going on in Iraq.

1-      What’s the significance of Shia clerics’ recent call to arms in Iraq?

It is the first time that Shia clerics such as Ayatollah Sistani who usually does not interfere with politics, have invited civilians to take arms and defend their country from armed extremists. Another Shia spiritual leader, Ayatollah Seyed Sadiq Shirazi, who is very active in politics, on the other hand says Shia do not need to be reminded by clerics that defending shrines is mandatory: anyone who is capable should defend shrines in Iraq. Shia clerics play huge role in the Shia communities and their comments have changed the world in past. For example, The Tobacco Protest was a Shiacleric-led revolt in Iran against an 1890 tobacco concession granted by the Shah to Great Britain. The protest climaxed in a widely-observed fatwa against tobacco use supposedly issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi in December of 1891. The Victory of the tobacco ban movement led by Mirza Shirazi’s, created two historically important results: First, the appearance of religious authorities’ unrivaled power in the country’s political scene and scholars leading in the mobilization of popular movements. This eventually led to the breakdown of the control of a dictatorship and the disintegration of colonial power in Iran and made spiritual leaders a symbol of national aspirations. Second, it led to a sea change of political opinion, which provided the context of a fundamental change in the administrative and political system of Iran and the formation of a larger populist movement during the Constitutional Uprising.

2-      Is Ayatollah Sistani the only Shia cleric to call people to arm against ISIS?

NO, Ayatollah Shirazi also said defending Shrines is every Muslims’ duty, a duty that is self-evident without a scholar’s Fatwa. Ayatollah Shirazi’s office in Syria helped many Shia flee when anti-Shia groups targeted them in Zeynabia, Syria. His followers have also steadfastly protected the Seyedeh Zeynab Shrine in Syria since the Arab spring.

3-      Is this a call to Jihad?

NO, both clerics clearly stated that it is a call to voluntary action. Jihad is when it becomes mandatory for ALL to join the army.

4-      Will this call to arms turn into sectarian bloodshed in Iraq?

Both clerics invited all Iraqis to join the army, not just Shia Muslims. Therefore it is not a war against any sect but a countrywide effort to defend Iraq’s stability and Iraqi security against ISIS.

Also Ayatollah Sistani stressed that civilians who want to defend holy shrines should join the army, encouraging them to operate under the government’s supervision. This call to arms is not a call to vigilantism, which would become difficult to monitor.

5-      What is the Iraqi reaction to the call to arms?

According to media outlets, thousands of Iraqi’s have joined the army so far. This call to arms has united the Sunni minority and Shia majority of Iraq against a common enemy, ISIS. By using their moral authority and considerable social influence in a nonsectarian and pro-Iraqi way, Shia clerics can help restore the mistrust that Iraqis have developed toward the Army since the embarrassing retreat in Mosul. Since the call to action, the army is increasingly made up of civilians motivated by the desire to ensure a that Iraq remains a country free from extremists, rather than those who fight for the sake of a government and its political agenda.

The situation in Iraq is a threat with ramifications that extend well beyond the borders of Iraq and is not limited to the Middle East. While all are closely monitoring the situation there has been very little action. Here are some suggestions for immediate action:

  • Saudi Arabia and Qatar must stop their financial and moral support to all terrorist groups in the region, including ISIS,
  • The UN must take steps to secure areas for vulnerable refugees displaced by the extremists in Iraq,
  • The Iraqi army should organize and train civilians who are joining the army. Volunteers who choose to fight to keep Iraq free from the grip of extremists in a time of violence have better motivation than those who joined for the prospect of a steady paycheck,
  • The government of Iraq also must work to unite all sects and groups within Iraq to fight one common enemy, ISIS.

ISIS and other terrorist groups cannot be defeated when the governments of neighboring countries, the US and Europe choose pragmatism over their self-professed values.

AEI: Shia Muslims are not Iran

“Mideast Shi’ites defy Iranian Domination?” was the title of a conference held by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) on June 19th in Washington DC. It seems like the West is finally hearing what the Shia community has been trying to say.

Shia Muslims across the globe have consistently insisted that they should not be associated with Iran just because Iran is a predominantly Shia country. Yet, they have continually been ignored. In the Middle East and South Asia fear of Iran’s nuclear power and political advancements have led to a number of anti-Shia alliances such as the one in Malaysia that was announced in April 2014.

The same fear led Egyptians to hold anti-Shia rallies and attack Shia rituals and encouraged the international community to cover up the oppression of peaceful Shia pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and normalized the targeted killing of Shia in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.

Fear of Iran and its influence in the region muted empathy for the Shia citizens of Mosul who were killed when ISIS attacked the primarily Sunni Iraqi city. The Sunni residents of Mosul welcomed the killing of their Shia neighbors and the ISIS take over the city.

Associating Shia Muslims with the Iranian government has led to fear and distrust of Shia throughout the region and this fear has cost hundreds of thousands of Shia lives. Because Shia are associated with the Iranian government, their loyalty to their home countries is unjustly called into question. local support for Shia who are being killed, slaughtered and attacked in Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Malaysia and… is undermined

The world’s apathy for the struggle of the Shia minority across the Middle East and elsewhere and its inaction in the face of growing anti-Shia movements could force many Shia to ask Iran for help and protection only serving the Iranian government’s desire to claim to represent the entire Shia population.

Shia Rights Watch (SRW), a human rights organization in Washington DC, was the first Shia NGO to reach out to governments, policy makers and senators to emphasize the position that Shia should not be associated with any government or political movement. “Shia hold different citizenships and are loyal to their own governments unless they are being oppressed”, said SRW director Mustafa Akhwand during an interview. “It is unrealistic and unfair to associate a certain faith with a certain government and then ignore their rights based on political agendas,” he continued.

AEI is among first NGOs that finally stood up and addressed how the United States can interact with Shia in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Azerbaijan as they work to resist Iranian influence. Such conferences attracted many American Shia who are eager to end their oppression, as well as many politicians who have finally decided to wake up and break the silence.

by Hawraa Zakery

Who is who in Yemen?

Yemenis, like citizens of number of other Islamic countries, have gone through tough times seeking social justice and freedom. In such process some groups gain power and some lose fair representation due to political agendas. Usually minorities are ones who are easier to sacrifice, and once again Yemeni Shia are paying the price of underrepresentation.

In recent conflict between Houthis and Yemeni Army as many as 500 people were killed during three weeks of flare-up in Sana’a.

Houthis, who are Zaidi Muslims: a small sect of Shia Islam. Media outlets have always identified this militant group as “Shiite insurgents” when Ansar Allah, he military wing of the Houthis Movement, have always stressed that whatever political agenda they carry, they do so on their own behalf and not under the banner of  Shia Islam. They claim seeking justice for Yemenis and not a specific group in this country.

Many, including politicians and media agencies make the mistake of association all Yemeni Shia Muslims with this militant group. 45% of Yemeni population are Shia Muslims and most of them have no interest in military movement. They are loyal native Yemenis who practice Shia faith. Association all Yemeni Shia with Houthis is a misconception that endangers the Shia minority within this country. Historically Shia have been underrepresented and associated with political groups such as Hezbollah and Houthis who barely have good reputation in majority of Shia populations. Such association victimized many native Shia communities who do not receive any support from international committees due to such assumption.

Considering the increasing anti-Shia movements in Middle East it is critical that politicians and media outlets differentiate between militant groups and majority of Shia populations in order to present this minority in a more realistic picture.

The Houthis themselves say to aim to speak for the Yemeni people and represent the Yemeni people’s aspirations, beyond religious dogma and such differentiation is critical.

Shia of Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi, and even south Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are accused of depending on Iran and therefore this minority has not been supported or even advocated for by Western prodemocracy nations. Although Iran does not mind claiming all Shia and increase its political visibility, most Shia Muslims do not support this ideology of Iran. Ignoring rights of Shia population will only push this minority under the umbrella of Iran ad feed into what this country is aiming for.

International committees must knowledge the pain this community is feeling and protect them from political abuses.

UN Permanent Members are Among the Most Important Arms Dealers

SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published a troubling report on the increased spending on arms by countries responsible for human rights violations. According to the report, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are among 23 countries that have more than doubled their military expenditure since 2004. While developing countries are spending more on defense, Western countries such as the U.S. are spending less.

Saudi Arabia’s spending increased by 14 percent and reached $67 billion; Bahrain’s spending increased 26 percent; and Iraq’s spending is up 27 percent.

The report also points out that eight states bordering the Persian Gulf — Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — invest the highest percentage of GDP in armed forces and weapons.

While it is important to know who is buying weapons, it is also critical to know who is selling them. Interestingly, the five U.N. Security Council permanent members — China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States — are among the largest arms dealers.

According to its own documents, ”The purpose of the United Nations is to bring all nations of the world together to work for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people.”

While the U.N. is trying hard to resolve the world’s most difficult problems of violence and conflict, its most influential and powerful members are making money selling arms. The are not just selling arms, but providing services and training to governments with well-known history of human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia, one of the countries to increase its expenditures on weapons, is one of the most repressive monarchies in the world. Its laws relegate women to second class status; it mistreats migrant workers and oppresses minorities; it trains and arms terrorist groups in the Middle East. Yet some peacemaking and prodemocracy members of the U.N. sell Saudi Arabia arms at clearance prices.

General Dynamics recently secured a 14-year contract worth $10 billion to sell Saudi Arabia military vehicles as well as training and support services. The Kingdom is Germany’s largest military customer, accounting for almost a quarter of Germany’s arms sales.

Like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar are rights violators that enjoy friendship and close business relations with big arms dealers.

Oppressive governments use the language of security and defense to justify their excessive investment in weapons and personnel, and civilians pay the highest price. The arms are often used to oppress minorities and stifle their demands for reform. Every dollar spent on arms diverts resources from citizens as governments cut basic services to purchase weapons. This exacerbates  poverty and harms many of the vulnerable poor.

All nations engage in trade and have economic relationships, but these trade relations can help or harm the people of other nations. It is unethical to sell arms to governments that do not respect human rights and human dignity.

To defuse regional conflicts and reduce the oppression of ethnic minorities:

  • U.N. members should fulfill the U.N. mission of peacekeeping, by not selling arms and to known human rights violators or resign from their U.N. membership;
  • governments must value human dignity over money and economic gains;
  • the U.N. must ban selling arms to countries with human rights violations.

And most importantly, the concept of human rights and dignity has to be revisited and retaught to all, civilians and governments.

A Human Rights Researcher at Shia Rights watch

Hooray for the Mothers of Activists!

motherAs Mother’s Day (May 11) draws closer and closer, Shia Rights Watch (SRW) would like to express its appreciation to all mothers of activists who have raised generations of peacemakers.

An Arabic-language channel’s recent interview of with the mother of a Saudi fighter in Syria brought hidden emotions and pain to the surface. Her son went there to kill; his mother’s heart has collapsed with worry that she might never see him again. In the interview, the fighter blamed Arifi, an anti-Shia Saudi preacher and famous human rights violation enabler, for his decision to go to Syria to fight. Arifi in response to the interview made fun of the mother’s pain and disgraced her, in his TV show, because she is a “woman”. The interview resulted in the creation of a Twitter campaign by Saudi youth demanding an apology from Arifi to the fighter’s mother. (Watch Here)

This story reminds us that every day millions of mothers around the world cope with rapidly beating hearts and eyes full of tears, while at the same time raising their hands in prayer for the safe return of their children from the battlefield. Some are fighting as terrorists; others are fighting as peacemakers. But in both cases their mothers are suffering, praying and waiting for them to come home …

We, as a human rights organization, admire those mothers who taught their children to be brave and to advocate for human rights and dignity.

Many women defend humanity in their capacity as wives, sisters, and daughters. Recent human rights violations toward Shia minorities have encouraged many of them to join activist circles. Women in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere are in the front line of human rights advocacy. All of them cause our hearts to swell with pride.

The staff, activists, journalists, writers, and volunteers at SRW would like to take this opportunity to express their gratitude to their own mothers and to the mothers of all peaceful protestors who chose to stand up for human rights for every person.

Let’s make all mothers proud by returning peace to its proper place in our lives.

Happy Mothers Day

(pic by

By Hawraa…..Shia Rights Activist at SRW