Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, morality-related events increased for a third consecutive week, while state-sponsored harassment and repression of minorities continued unabated. In Iraq, the governor of Erbil province established a new committee to regulate the activities of nightclubs, while the minister of education imposed a modest dress code on teachers. In Iran, a man and woman were sentenced to 99 lashes for having an extramarital affair, while the state continued its repression and harassment campaign against minority religious communities. In Yemen, pro-Houthi forces demolished a mosque and expropriated the cleared land in Sanaa, while pro-Islah forces invoked religious law to encourage citizens to pay their utility bills. In Bahrain, prison authorities retaliated against prisoners on a hunger strike by confiscating their religious belongings.
In Iraq and Iran, several morality-related events were reported last week. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the governor of Erbil province announced the establishment of a special committee to review and monitor “negative activities” in nightclubs. He further stated that new guidelines would be issued to regulate nightclubs, and those that won’t abide by those regulations will be fined or closed. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Ministry of Education issued a directive ordering teachers to wear “modest, official clothing,” banning them from wearing “short pants and shorts” (Shafaaq News, 11 November 2021). This is the third consecutive week of increased moral policing by the state. In Iran, a Criminal Court in Tehran sentenced a man and a woman to 99 lashes each for having an extramarital affair. The sentences come a week after another two Iranians were sentenced to death on the same charge. Extramarital sexual relations are considered capital crimes in Iran, punishable by stoning — based on orthodox interpretations of Islamic law (Iran Human Rights, 3 May 2020).
In Iran, state forces continued their systematic campaign of harassment and discrimination against non-Shiite religious communities last week. In Mazandaran province, Iranian judicial authorities summoned and arrested a Bahai woman in the city of Babol for unknown charges (HRANA, 16 November 2021). In Sistan and Baluchestan province, the Special Clerical Court summoned a Sunni cleric and director of the Anwar Al Haramayn seminary in the village of Pashamagh for unknown reasons.1The Special Clerical Court is a special judicial body that handles crimes committed by Muslim clerics, regardless of their denomination. It is separate from the Iranian judiciary and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Twelver Shiite ayatollah (Tamadonfar, 2001). Iranian state authorities have previously harassed Sunni clerics and clerical institutions in Pashamagh, most recently blocking the construction of a seminary in May 2021. The village and its surrounding areas have been under increased state scrutiny since late 2019, when the Special Clerical Court ordered the arrest of the village’s Sunni imam, prompting an outbreak of demonstration activity (VOA, 16 June 2020). Meanwhile, state authorities revoked the admission of a Gonabadi dervish student despite a previous judicial verdict permitting him to continue his studies at the Islamic Azad University in Tehran (HRANA, 18 November 2021). The Iranian state has been systematically targeting the Gonabadi Order since early 2018, when Gonabadi dervishes clashed with Iranian police forces during demonstrations against the arrest of one of their members (Al Jazeera, 27 February 2018). The Gonabadi Order is one of the largest Sufi orders in Iran (RFERL, 20 February 2018).
Last week in Yemen, pro-Houthi forces demolished a women’s mosque attached to Al Muqbil mosque in Sanaa before expropriating the land to build a house for a Houthi leader. Meanwhile, in Shabwah governorate, the pro-Islah endowment office issued a directive instructing the local government to frame the payment of utility bills in terms of the shariah, identifying failure to pay one’s bills as a “sin.” In this instance, pro-Islah authorities have resorted to using the principle of ‘fatwa ruling’ — religious legal opinions — to administer areas under their control and ensure compliance with their orders.
Meanwhile, in Bahrain, prison authorities confiscated religious belongings from a number of prisoners as a form of punishment last week. In Al Hidd city, prison guards confiscated personal and religious possessions from several prisoners after they began a hunger strike last week to demand more time in the prison courtyard.
In Iraq, Christian Evangelical religious leaders inaugurated the Apostolic Rock Church as the first Evangelical church in Basrah governorate last week. The Apostolic Rock Church would be the first church to open in southern Iraq since 2003, when the number of Evangelical Christians in Basrah fell from nearly 10,000 people to nearly 1,000 people (Shafaq News, 18 November 2021).
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