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Bahrain's Government Is Trying to Shut Down Its Main Opposition Group

A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of the country's main opposition group al-Wefaq on Tuesday in what appeared to be an escalating campaign against dissent in the Western-allied Gulf Arab kingdom.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jun 14 2016, 5:15pm

Protesters hold banners with photos of opposition leader and head of Al Wefaq party Ali Salman during a protest after Friday prayers in the village of Diraz, Bahrain, May 13, 2016. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of the country's main opposition group al-Wefaq on Tuesday, its lawyer said, in what appeared to be an escalating campaign against dissent in the Western-allied Gulf Arab kingdom.

Lawyer Abdallah al-Shamlawi said the court also set an October date for a hearing into dissolving al-Wefaq. The move came a day after authorities detained one of the country's leading rights activists.

Sunni-ruled Bahrain was rocked by mass protests by majority Shiite Muslims in 2011, when uprisings shook the Arab world, demanding a bigger role in running the small Gulf island which also hosts the US Fifth Fleet.

The US State Department called the suspension "alarming," and urged Bahraini officials to reverse their decision.

Al-Wefaq, which held 18 out of 40 parliamentary seats, pulled out of the assembly during the 2011 crackdown against mostly Shiite protesters demanding greater democracy.

Shamlawi said that the court ordered al-Wefaq's activities suspended and its offices closed, and set October 6 as the date for a hearing into the request for the dissolution of the group, whose full name is al-Wefaq National Islamic Society.

Related: Bahrain Detains Activist and Her Baby Son in Ongoing 'Cat-and-Mouse' Crackdown

"Two hours after a petition to stop the activities of al-Wefaq and to close its office, the administrative court swiftly approved the (justice) minister's request," he wrote on his Twitter account.

The Justice Ministry said it had filed the request to dissolve al-Wefaq, which it said "works within a political, religious and foreign framework," state news agency BNA reported.

Residents said police were surrounding three of the group's offices. Its website also appeared to be blocked in the country.

Officials from al-Wefaq could not immediately be reached for comment, but rights activists said that the Bahrain Monitor for Human Rights had filed a complaint to the UN High Commission for Human Rights over the decision.

Rights groups have accused Bahrain of escalating a crackdown on the opposition over the past two years by jailing some activists and revoking citizenship of others and expelling them.

Related: Angry Protesters Ransack and Torch Saudi Embassy in Iran After Mass Execution

On Monday, police detained Nabeel Rajab, one of the most prominent rights activists in the Arab world, for unspecified reasons, nearly a year after he was freed by royal pardon.

Last month, an appeals court more than doubled a prison term imposed on al-Wefaq's leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, in June last year to nine years from four.

In February, a Bahraini court sentenced Ibrahim Sharif, former head of the secular National Democratic Action Society, or Waad, to one year in jail on charges of insulting the kingdom's ruling system but cleared of the more serious charge of calling for regime change through illegal means.