Bahrain Rapidly Escalates Crackdown on Opposition Voices

A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of all activities by al-Wefaq, the island-nation’s largest opposition party. The Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry, which asked the court to issue the order, said al-Wefaq’s shuttering was needed to “safeguard the security of the kingdom.” The court alleged that al-Wefaq violated the constitution and was guilty of “activities that sow and divide the unity of citizens.” A hearing was scheduled for October 6 to decide whether to “liquidate” al-Wefaq and its assets have been frozen. The order follows the recent increase in the sentence of al-Wefaq’s Secretary-General Ali Salman from 4 to 9 years for “crimes of promoting change to the political system by force.”

The United States is “deeply troubled” by the “alarming move” by the Bahraini government, stating that the dissolution of al-Wefaq is “not consistent with a commitment to sustaining,..progress or pursuing unfulfilled reforms.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called the move “serious backsliding” on human rights by the Bahraini government.

Human Rights First said the action against al-Wefaq “is part of an alarming new crackdown by the government, designed to eliminate all remaining opposition in the country.” The organization’s Director of Human Rights Defenders Brian Dooley criticized the suspensions, saying that Manama “seems determined to kill all avenues of peaceful dissent.”

Meanwhile, Bahraini authorities arrested prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, from his home during the early hours of the morning of Monday, June 13. Reportedly, Rajab has been charged with “spreading false news” and will be detained for one week. The activist has repeatedly faced charges related to free expression since his involvement in the 2011 uprising.

Brian Dooley  said that Rajab’s detention appeared timed to come ahead of a planned United Nations meeting on human rights, and called it a “forceful, frightening message from the Bahraini government that it’s moving against even activists with strong international connections.” Bahrain also refused to allow a delegation of human rights activists to travel to that meeting, the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), on Monday. The five activists were given travel bans and prevented from traveling by passport officers at the Bahrain International Airport. This is the largest number of people Bahrain has placed under a travel ban at a single time.

Speaking at the opening of the HRC, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein warned Bahrain that, “Repression will not eliminate people’s grievances; it will increase them.” Deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department Mark Toner said that the United States is “deeply concerned” by Rajab’s arrest and emphasized that, “We don’t believe anyone should be imprisoned for or prosecuted for engaging in peaceful expression or assembly, even if controversial.”

Al-Wefaq’s shutdown and Rajab’s arrest come less than a week after rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja was forced to flee Bahrain after her recent release from prison. A dual citizen of Bahrain and Denmark, al-Khawaja said that the government told the Danish embassy that if she did not leave the country she would be rearrested and separated from her children indefinitely. Zainab noted that if new charges were brought against her in Bahrain she had “absolutely no confidence [she] would get a fair trial.”