Human rights organizations have condemned the Bahraini regime’s ban on the country’s biggest opposition bloc, al-Wefaq, saying it is part of a new crackdown on dissent.
On Tuesday, the Bahraini Justice Ministry announced in a statement that the kingdom had suspended all activities by the al-Wefaq in the Persian Gulf country.
The US-based Human Rights First described al-Wefaq’s suspension as “part of an alarming new crackdown by the government, designed to eliminate all remaining opposition in the country.”
“The Bahraini government seems determined to kill all avenues of peaceful dissent. This is a dangerous course, and is likely to fuel extremism and deepen political instability,” said the group’s Brian Dooley.
“Bahrain has targeted leading human rights figures and opposition leaders in recent weeks; today’s move is a major statement of intent by the regime that any prospect of reform is over,” he added.
The decision came a day after Bahraini security forces rearrested Nabeel Rajab, a prominent activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
Rajab, who has been critical of Manama’s heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protests, has been arrested several times since the start of an uprising in the Persian Gulf country in 2011.
Since February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on an almost daily basis, calling for the Al Khalifa regime to relinquish power.
On Wednesday, Bahrain suspended two other opposition movements — the Islamic Enlightenment Society (Al-Taweya) and al-Resalah Islamic Society.
Bahrain’s Labor and Social Development Minister Jameel bin Mohammed Ali Humaidan notified the two groups of their suspension in an order.
Several human rights groups in the Middle East, Europe and the US also issued a joint statement, denouncing the decision to suspend al-Wefaq.
They included the Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR), the European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) and the Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO).
ADHRB Executive Director Husain Abdulla said, “The international community and the United States need to vocally oppose the Bahraini government’s suspension of al-Wefaq.”
The US is an ally of the Bahraini regime and the tiny kingdom hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
On Tuesday, the US State Department expressed concern about Bahrain’s move to ban al-Wefaq and urged the kingdom to reverse the decision.
Troops from other US allies, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been deployed to Bahrain to help in the crackdown on peaceful protests.
In their statement, the rights groups called on the US, the UK and the European Union “to publicly condemn the Bahraini government’s suspension of al-Wefaq and targeting of the political opposition.”
“This most recent attack on the civil liberties of the people of Bahrain is troubling and indicative of a growing culture of impunity that seems to pervade the government of the kingdom,” Hugh Ali, the executive director of JHRO, said.
Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the BIRD, denounced the Bahraini regime’s claims of reforms, saying it “is only reforming itself into a state of silence and terror.”
“Bahrain is bulldozing its civil society and is making a mockery of their ally the UK, who welcomed Bahrain’s ‘commitment to reform’ just two weeks ago,” he added.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond made those remarks during his visit to Bahrain at the end of May, just the same day an appeals court more than doubled the prison sentence of al-Wefaq’s Secretary Genaral Sheikh Ali Salman.
Salman has been in prison since December 2014 on charges of attempting to overthrow the regime and collaborating with foreign powers, which he has denied.
A court sentenced him to four years in prison in June 2015 after a trial which Amnesty International described as “unfair.”