This article was originally published on bahrainrights.org on 3 November 2014.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the government of Bahrain's ongoing attack on freedom of association by issuing an order to suspend the activities of Al-Wefaq, the main opposition society in the country, for three months.
On 20 July 2014, the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments filed a lawsuit against Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society to suspend its activities for three months accusing the society of "breaking the law and its own statute as well as its failure to amend violations related to its illegal general assemblies and the consequent invalidity of all its decisions." The lawsuit was filed just days after the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski met with Al-Wefaq's members which resulted in his expulsion from Bahrain because of "his interference in its internal affairs". Additionally, Al-Wefaq's General Secretary Ali Salman and his deputy Khalil al-Marzooq were interrogated and charged with "violating the 2005 Law for Political Societies" for meeting with Malinowski.
On 28 October, the High Administrative Court ordered the suspension of Al-Wefaq's activities for three months which means, according to the society's lawyer, all the activities of Al-Wefaq will be banned including operating in Bahrain, organizing rallies, holding press conferences and using its offices. This move comes following opposition groups' announcement to boycott the upcoming elections. The defense team said in regards to the court's issuance of the verdict that it was not expected as the case was postponed with the purpose of studying the period of time to suspend the lawsuit, not to issue a ruling. The court didn't provide the defense team the opportunity to discuss or respond to the reasons of the lawsuit and the verdict was issued before presenting their plea.
The Minister of Justice announced that the decision will not be implemented until Al-Wefaq holds its general assembly, however, the court's order remains and Al-Wefaq may possibly be suspended.
The suspension of the Al-Wefaq Society comes as the latest incident in a series of restrictions on political associations in Bahrain. The court is currently looking into another case against the National Democratic Work Society (WAAD) to suspend it for three months on the same allegations that were filed against Al-Wefaq. WAAD's secretary-general is prisoner of conscience and political leader Mr. Ebrahim Sharif. On April 2013, an appeals court upheld a decision to dissolve another political society, the Islamic Action Society (AMAL) for alleged "grave breaches of the provisions of Bahrain's constitution and laws".
BCHR emphasizes the right of political societies to practice peaceful political work according to Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state the right of peaceful assembly and the right to form societies with others.
BCHR calls on the government of Bahrain to adhere to the following points, it also calls on the United Kingdom, the United States, and all close allies to Bahrain to put pressure on the authorities in Bahrain to:
- Cancel the decision to suspend Al-Wefaq political society's activities;
- Stop the procedures to suspend the National Democratic Work Society (WAAD);
- End procedures aimed at restricting freedom of association in Bahrain.