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Bahrain issues nationwide ban on protests

In defiance of ban on marches in Bahrain, a peaceful demonstration was held on 31 October demanding a political activist's release
In defiance of ban on marches in Bahrain, a peaceful demonstration was held on 31 October demanding a political activist's release

S. Yousif Al-Muhafda/BCHR

Less than 24 hours after Bahraini authorities issued a nationwide ban on all protests and rallies, dozens of marches filled the streets.

"We were under unofficial martial law before today, but now it is clear," said Said Yousif Al-Muhafdhah, the head of monitoring at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), in an interview with the Beirut-based publication Al-Akhbar on 30 October 2012 - the day of the announcement.

The minister's decision to ban protests came on the heels of clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters. Two weeks ago, a policeman died of injuries during clashes with protesters in Al-Eker village outside Manama. The village was immediately declared under siege. The lockdown lasted more than 48 hours.

The emergency move to officially ban protests is the latest attempt by the authorities to suppress a pro-democracy uprising which began in February 2011. The minister stated that any such protests or gatherings would be met with legal action.

The reaction from rights groups to the news was rapid, and widespread. On 30 October, wrote, "The move is a travesty - and, sadly, just the latest in a series of mockeries this repressive Gulf kingdom has made of its claimed commitment to reform, human rights and national reconciliation."

"The protests won't go away just because the authorities ban them. This is another blow to those looking for a peaceful way to criticize the government, and will likely lead to more frustration and anger," said Human Rights First's Brian Dooley. "The Kingdom should rethink this strategy."

Acting BCHR President Maryam Al-Khawaja tweeted today, 31 October, "Protests continue in #bahrain despite official ban bcz they continued despite everything else too, including death torture and imprisonment."

Activist Zainab Al-Khawaja (@angryarabiya) tweeted, "Not only [are] Bahrainis protesting, they're doing it as families, parents and their children." She also tweeted, "Protesters chanting 'We raise our voices for freedom, we will not be killed in silence'."

Amnesty International called for the ban to be lifted, saying it "violates the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."

Detained human rights defender and President of BCHR Nabeel Rajab sent out a statement which has been broadcast through his Twitter account requesting that human rights defenders "continue our peaceful human rights work more determined than ever before." Rajab is currently serving a three-year jail sentence for organising "illegal protests".

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