Bahrain suspends main Shiite opposition group amid crackdown on protesters from 2011 Arab Spring

© Hamad I Mohammed
Bahrain’s largest opposition Shiite group, Al-Wefaq, has been closed down by a local court in the midst of a widening crackdown on activists that took part in the 2011 Arab Spring protests by the country’s Sunni-ruled government.

Bahrain’s Justice Ministry said on Tuesday that it had decided to suspend Al-Wefaq, the country’s Shiite political group, to “safeguard the security of the kingdom,” AP reported.

“Two hours after a petition to stop the activities of al-Wefaq and to close its office, the administrative court swiftly approved the [justice] minister’s request,” lawyer Abdallah Shamlawi said on Twitter.

The court has ordered the party’s offices closed and its assets frozen, setting October 6 as the date for a hearing on the party’s “liquidation,” meaning that the kingdom’s largest opposition group could be entirely dissolved, Shamlawi later said.

“It was out of the blue,” he asserted, before adding that Al-Wefaq would “presumably” appeal the ruling.

The court’s decision comes a day after the detention of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent Bahraini human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), who is known as an outspoken advocate of political freedoms.

Earlier in May, a Bahrain’s appeals court more than doubled a prison term for Al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman, who is now facing nine years in prison – up from the current four. He was charged over allegations that include incitement and insulting the Interior Ministry.

Al-Wefaq draws its support from the country’s Shiite majority, which seeks political representation in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, which hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

In Bahrain’s 2010 general election, Al-Wefaq won 18 of 40 parliamentary seats, having secured 64 percent of the popular vote. One year later, it pulled out of parliament after two protesters were killed by the Bahraini police during a Bahrain uprising.

Anti-government protests have been taking place on and off in Bahrain since the outbreak of Arab Spring protests in 2011 that toppled rulers across the region. The Bahrain government responded to protests with crackdowns and coercion.