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Bahrain dissolves Al-Wefaq, the largest political opposition bloc in the country

The following is a joint statement originally published on 17 July 2016 and signed by adhrb.org and bahrainrights.org as well as three other local civil society groups.

The High Civil Court today ordered the dissolution and liquidation of all assets of the largest political opposition bloc in Bahrain, Al-Wefaq Political Society. The undersigned NGOs strongly condemn the government's latest efforts to suppress all forms of peaceful dissent as it continues to target Bahraini civil society.

On 14 June 2016, Bahraini authorities suspended Al-Wefaq. Officials froze the society's assets, halted all of its activities, and closed its headquarters. Following the court's decision and the execution of the suspension order on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, Bahraini authorities immediately seized and closed Al-Wefaq's headquarters. Additionally, Bahraini officials blocked Al-Wefaq's website in the kingdom. Originally, the court had set 6 October 2016 as the commencement of the case to dissolve Al-Wefaq. However, in response to a request by the Ministry of Justice, the court moved the trial forward twice.

On 28 June 2016, Al-Wefaq's defense team withdrew from the court proceedings in protest of the government's acceleration of the process. The defense team submitted a letter to the court stating, “in light of the court's decision to postpone the hearing to 4 July 2016 for our response; and while not permitting us to enter the headquarters of Al-Wefaq to get the necessary documents to prepare our defense and support it with documents; the defense team believes that it is impossible to carry out its work legally and professionally, due to the very short deadline and the refusal of allowing access to those documents.”

“The Bahraini government's decision to unilaterally dissolve the largest political opposition bloc in Bahrain proves that the government is committed to repression rather than reform,” stated Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) Executive Director Husain Abdulla. “Al-Wefaq's legal team could not prepare a proper defense after being refused access to important documents by the government. This decision is deeply troubling and will only further escalate tensions in the kingdom.”

The court accused Al-Wefaq with allegedly supporting violence, expressing its “solidarity with suspects convicted of instigating hatred of the political regime,” “calling for a coup d'état and demeaning the judiciary and executive bodies,” and calling for “demonstrations and sit-ins that could lead to sectarian strife in the country.”

The suspension of Al-Wefaq Society in June was widely condemned by international human rights bodies and governments. On 7 July 2016, the European Parliament adopted an urgency resolution condemning the recent human rights abuses by Bahraini authorities. The resolution specifically noted concern for the suppression of legitimate political opposition in Bahrain, citing the increase in prison sentence for Al-Wefaq's Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, and the suspension of the party itself.

“Al-Wefaq was the largest opposition political party in Bahrain and had mass support. What the government has effectively done is to silence the voices of tens of thousands of Bahrainis,” stated Bahrain Institute for Rights & Democracy (BIRD) Advocacy Director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. “The government has shut the window for political dialogue.”

This is just the latest in a series of steps the government has taken to silence opposition. On 16 July 2016, Bahraini authorities charged Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain's majority Shia community, with misappropriating religious funds gathered from the Shia community. The government had previously revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim's citizenship on 20 June 2016, which led to mass demonstrations not seen since 2011. The round-the-clock sit-in protesting this decision continues today in Sheikh Isa's hometown of Diraz.

The targeting of Sheikh Isa Qassim comes as the government continues to take actions against the religious leaders of the Shia community. In June, the Bahraini King promulgated a bill amending the 2005 Political Societies Law, placing a ban on participation in political decision-making based on discriminatory religious grounds. Additionally, the Ministry of Social Development closed Al-Risala Islamic Society and the Islamic Enlightenment society, two major organizations of the Bahraini Shia Muslim community.

We, the undersigned, call upon the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to denounce the recent actions by the Government of Bahrain, to immediately suspend arms sales to the kingdom, to urge the government to reverse its decision to dissolve Al-Wefaq Society, and to pressure the government to commit to respecting human rights.

Signatories:

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)

Justice Human Rights Organization (JHRO)

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