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Bahrain heading for 'total suppression' of human rights, as opposition group banned

Protests have been crushed and opposition leaders jailed © AFP/Getty Images

Secular group Wa’ad forcibly dissolved after criticising the authorities

Move is ‘further proof that the authorities have no intention of delivering on promises of human rights progress’ - Lynn Maalouf

Bahrain’s dissolution of a major political opposition group today is the latest troubling move in a blatant official campaign to end all criticism of the government, Amnesty International said.

The secular National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) was dissolved earlier today after having earlier this year issued a statement saying that Bahrain was suffering from a “constitutional political crisis” amid continuous human rights violations. 

Wa’ad was subsequently charged with “advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness”. On 6 March, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit against Wa’ad for violating the Law on Political Associations. 

Lynn Maalouf, Research Director at Amnesty International’s Beirut office, said:

“By banning major political opposition groups, Bahrain is now heading towards total suppression of human rights.

“The suspension of Wa’ad is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association, and further proof that the authorities have no intention of delivering on promises of human rights progress.

“The allegations made by the Ministry of Justice against Wa’ad and its leaders are baseless and absurd. 

“Their only so-called ‘crime’ is exercising their right to freedom of expression and association.”

Charges against Wa’ad

Meanwhile, Wa’ad is also being charged over its support for the main opposition party Al Wefaq, which was itself dissolved last July. Its Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been jailed and has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty. It is also accused of electing Ebrahim Sharif, a former prisoner of conscience, as a member of its Central Committee despite his having “lost his civil and political rights” when he was charged with criminal offences in 2011.

The Ministry of Justice accused Wa’ad of “advocating and inciting terrorism” after it condemned the execution of three men on 15 January - referring to them as “martyrs” - and called other men who died or were killed by security forces in February “martyrs”. Wa’ad and its leaders have repeatedly stated their opposition to violence and commitment to peaceful means of opposition. 

Wa’ad’s dissolution comes amid an intensifying clampdown on human rights. This includes the trial of prominent human rights activist and prisoner of conscience Nabeel Rajab, the approval of a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried before a military court, the restoration of arrest and interrogation powers to the National Security Agency, and excessive use of force against protesters.

Dissolving opposition groups, jailing opponents 

This is not the first time Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice has taken, or threatened to take, legal action against Wa’ad or suspended or dissolved a political association. In 2014, the Justice Minister filed a court case against Wa’ad for electing Ebrahim Sharif as its Secretary General in 2012. The case was dropped in November 2014 to reduce tensions in the run-up to that month’s elections, and after Wa’ad had agreed to hold new internal elections.

Al Wefaq, the main opposition party in Bahrain, was dissolved last July, one month after a court ordered the suspension of its activities, the closure of its offices and headquarters, and the seizure of its accounts and assets. Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of Al Wefaq, and Fadhel Abbas Mahdi Mohamed, former Secretary General of another political association, Al-Wahdawi, were also imprisoned as prisoners of conscience.
 

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