International

Bahrain court dissolves secular opposition group

DUBAI: A Bahraini court dissolved a secular opposition party on Wednesday, a judicial official said, as authorities in the Gulf state kept up a crackdown on dissent.

The decision by the administrative court, just months after the main party representing the kingdom’s Shiite majority was also banned, was swiftly condemned by human rights groups.

The justice ministry had requested the dissolution of the National Democratic Action Society (Waed) in March.

It accused the party of “serious violations of the principle of respect for the rule of law”, “support of terrorism” and “promotion of political change by force.”

Bahrain has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when its Sunni minority rulers crushed Shiite-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Last week, police shot dead five demonstrators in the home village of the spiritual leader of the kingdom’s Shiite majority.

The Sunni left-leaning former head of Waed, Ibrahim Sharif, was released from prison last July after serving a one-year sentence for incitement against the government.

He had already served four years of a five-year sentence over the 2011 protests before being released under a royal amnesty in June 2015.

Last year, a court ordered the dissolution of the country’s main opposition party, Al-Wefaq, for “harbouring terrorism”. Its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been behind bars since 2014.

Shiite Al-Wefaq was the largest bloc in Bahrain’s elected lower house of parliament. Its members resigned en masse in protest against the state crackdown on the 2011 protests.

Amnesty International said dissolving Waed was a “flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association.”

“By banning major political opposition groups, Bahrain is now heading towards total suppression of human rights,” the director of research at its Beirut office, Lynn Maalouf, said.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said Western inaction was emboldening the authorities to intensify their crackdown on dissent.

“Shutting down the last opposition party is a declaration of a de facto ban on all opposition,” its director of advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said.

“This was allowed to happen because Bahrain feels zero geopolitical and international pressure from ‘champions of democracy’ in the West.”

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, which lies just across the Gulf from Iran, is a key regional ally of the United States and home to its Fifth Fleet.

Manama has come under frequent criticism from international human rights groups and the administration of Barack Obama often criticised Bahraini authorities for not doing more to reconcile with the opposition.

However President Donald Trump made a clear break from that policy during a visit to the region earlier this month, telling Bahrain’s King Hamad in neighbouring Saudi Arabia “there won’t be strain with this administration”.

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