Bahraini authorities shut down country's largest opposition group

Bahraini police stormed the offices of the country's largest opposition group on Tuesday, shutting all its offices including the headquarters in the capital Manama following a court order earlier in the day.

In addition to the shutdown, the Bahraini court also ordered that the assets of the moderate al-Wefaq National Islamic Society be frozen and that its activities be suspended until another court looks into the case.

Lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi told dpa that the ruling was made within two hours of the Justice Ministry filing a lawsuit against the Shiite group.

"We had an hour and a half [within which] the lawsuit was filed and being heard ... where we objected to the claims and asked for some time to study the case," al-Shamlawi told dpa.

"Half an hour later the judge issued his ruling to close down al-Wefaq," he added.

The ministry said in a statement that its decision to seek a court ruling to close al-Wefaq was based on the threat the group posed to peace in the country.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab was ordered by a court to be held in custody for a week pending further investigation into charges of circulating false information that could harm the country.

Bahraini authorities had arrested Rajab in a raid on his home early on Monday.

Rajab's arrest comes two weeks after another prominent opposition activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, was freed from jail on what prosecutors said were humanitarian grounds.

In July last year, Rajab was freed after Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa pardoned him on medical grounds.

He had been serving a six-month sentence over comments on Twitter criticizing the defence and interior ministries, prison conditions in Bahrain and the Saudi-led war against Yemen's Houthi rebels.  

"The arrest of Nabeel Rajab appears to be another alarming example of Bahrain's zero-tolerance stance towards peaceful dissent and activism, which it enforces through arbitrary measures including revolving-doors detention," James Lynch, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said following the activist's arrest.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US was "deeply troubled by today’s alarming move," and urged Bahrain to reconsider the decision.

Noting that Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's 5th fleet, had made "some progress in addressing the concerns and grievances of its citizens since the events of 2011," Kirby said the United States was concerned that the government's moves "will restrict freedom of expression."

Earlier this month, an appeals court sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of al-Wefaq, to nine years in prison for insulting the Interior Ministry and inciting sectarian hatred, among other charges.

Bahrain saw numerous protests in February 2011 in the wake of popular uprisings that unseated long-standing dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

Demonstrations demanding political reform and greater freedoms in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Bahrain started in February 2011, not long after popular uprisings unseated dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.

An ensuing crackdown on the pro-reform protests left more than 100 civilians dead, according to opposition figures.

Several thousand suspected protesters were detained, while many others thought to have taken part in the protests lost their jobs.

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 10:26

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