Bahrain’s government filed a lawsuit earlier this week to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society (Waad party), a secular political party. The party is the second organization of its kind to be targeted as part of the government’s wave of extreme crackdown on opposition, in the last year. New York Times reports say the government has already cracked down on its largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, along with doubling a prison sentence for its secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. According to the Washington Post, Bahrain’s Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry accused the Waad party of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting (the) violent and forceful overthrow of (the) political regime.” What is most striking about this statement and the subsequent lawsuit, is that it was made shortly after Bahrain’s parliament passed a constitutional amendment allowing civilians to be tried by military tribunals. Such developments in Bahrain’s political landscape evoke sentiments of the clampdown that followed the country’s 2011 Arab Spring protests.
The Justice Ministry has yet to provide specific, factual examples for its claims. However, the Waad party is no stranger to being scrutinized by the watchful eye of authorities. Its position as a liberal bloc, which reaches out to both Shiite and Sunni reformers, makes it a contentious threat to government officials. The New York Times has reported that Radhi al-Moosawi, a leader of the Waad group, expressed shock towards the accusations and lawsuit. In a statement to Reuters, he insisted that Waad was committed to peaceful political work and rejected to violence, saying “this is another step to undermine political work by the opposition in Bahrain”. The party vows to fight the ministry in court.
According to the New York Times, the Waad party was established in 2001, following its founder’s return home from over three decades in political exile. Its liberal stance perpetuated several attacks from the government during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. During that time period, the group’s offices had been vandalized and set ablaze multiple times. Additionally, the group’s then-leader Ebrahim Sharif served over four years in prison, after being convicted along with other activists by a military tribunal. Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base, is a predominantly Shiite nation with a Sunni monarchy.
Authorities claim that rollback efforts against opposition groups are critical towards their anti-terrorism efforts. The nation has recently experienced a series of terrorist attacks, along with a January prison break. Some of these attacks have been claimed responsibility for Shiite militant groups. In addition to lashing out at internal sources of dissidence, Bahrain has also accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of training and arming some of these militants. According to the Washington Post, Iran has dismissed such accusations as “baseless”.
It is undeniable that terrorist attacks have spiked this year, after authorities executed three men convicted of a major bombing in 2014. However, the official response to security threats has been markedly extreme, in both scope and violence. Along with the dissolution of opposition groups, the constitutional amendment, which authorizes military trials of civilians accused of threatening security forces, is also alarming. Activists have warned that this amendment effectively places the nation under an undeclared state of martial law.
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