Updated: Bahrain court dissolves main opposition bloc

AFP , Sunday 17 Jul 2016

Bahrain Opposition HQ
The headquarters of Bahrain's main opposition party al-Wefaq is seen in Bilad Al Qadeem, west of Manama, October 28, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

A Bahraini court on Sunday ordered the kingdom's main opposition group Al-Wefaq to be dissolved, a judicial source said, after authorities accused it of "harbouring terrorism."

The administrative court in Manama also ordered the Shia movement's funds to be seized by the government, the source said.

The ruling comes despite appeals by the United Nations, United States, and rights groups for the legal process against the bloc to be dropped.

Al-Wefaq was the largest in parliament before its lawmakers resigned in protest at the crushing of 2011 protests calling for an elected government.

Washington has labelled the crackdown on it "alarming".

The court accused Al-Wefaq, which draws most of its support from the Shia majority, of "inciting violence and encouraging demonstrations and sit-ins which could lead to sectarian strife in the country."

It said that the bloc had "criticised the performance of the state authorities -- executive, judicial, and legislative."

On June 28, Al-Wefaq's defence lawyers withdrew from court proceedings in protest at the government's push to accelerate the process, which was initially set for October 6.

The court already suspended all of Al-Wefaq's activities on June 14, ordering its offices closed and assets frozen.

The justice ministry, which had requested dissolving Al-Wefaq, accused the bloc of providing a haven for "terrorism, radicalisation and violence" and opening the way for "foreign interference" in the kingdom's affairs.

That was an allusion to Iran, which Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among its Shia majority.

Al-Wefaq draws most of its support from the Shia majority in Bahrain.

Despite repeated appeals from its US ally for "reform and reconciliation", Bahrain has carried out an intensifying crackdown on leading Shia figures.

Al-Wefaq chief, Shia cleric Ali Salman, is serving a nine-year jail term for inciting violence after a court in May more than doubled his sentence.

His arrest in December 2014 sparked protests in Bahrain, already rocked by a Shia-led uprising that erupted in February 2011.

Last month, Bahrain stripped the kingdom's top Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim of his nationality, prompting street protests in his home village of Diraz, west of Manama.

Amnesty International had urged Bahraini authorities to halt its "intensified crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and movement".

The London-based rights watchdog said it was "deeply concerned" by the decision to suspend Al-Wefaq.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain lies just across the Gulf from Iran and is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet.

Short link: