18 April 2017 – A Bahraini court yesterday decided to postpone to 30 April 2017 the final hearing in the government’s case to dissolve the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), a secular liberal political society. Yesterday’s hearing was the second in the case against Wa’ad, and the verdict is expected in May. We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the government’s move to arbitrarily dissolve Wa’ad and call on it to immediately halt the proceedings.

The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJ) launched dissolution proceedings against Wa’ad on 6 March 2017, citing unsubstantiated allegations of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime.” The society’s legal team requested that the court postpone the proceedings so that it could provide additional documentation, particularly concerning the unconstitutionality of the Law on Political Societies, which governs the country’s political groups, as formal parties are prohibited. The judge today approved Wa’ad’s extension.

The government took similar action against Bahrain’s largest political group, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, on 14 June 2016, when a Bahraini court approved its suspension within hours of receiving a request from the MOJ. Authorities immediately enforced the order, freezing the society’s assets, blocking its website, and closing its headquarters. On 17 July 2016, after the judiciary expedited the legal proceedings, Bahrain’s High Civil Court affirmed the order and formally dissolved Al-Wefaq. The second High Civil Court of Appeals upheld the dissolution on 22 September. Al-Wefaq’s Secretary-General, Sheikh Ali Salman, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence stemming from a political speech he delivered.

The government dissolved another opposition political group, Amal, also known as the Islamic Action Society, in 2012.

This is also not the first time that Bahraini authorities have targeted Wa’ad and its members. The society’s headquarters was twice burnt down and vandalized and it has repeatedly faced suspension or threats thereof. Bahraini authorities recently subjected Ebrahim Sharif, former Secretary-General of Wa’ad, to judicial harassment. On 20 March 2017, officials charged Sharif with “inciting hatred against the regime” and against “factions of society” under articles 165 and 172 of Bahrain’s penal code for messages he wrote on social media. Sharif was previously imprisoned from 2011 to 2015, and then again from 2015 to 2016 on similar charges stemming from his involvement in the pro-democracy movement and speeches he delivered. He could now face up to three more years in prison.

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB): “The government has fabricated spurious allegations against nearly every opposition group in the country, licensed or unlicensed. It was only a matter of time before they outright dissolved Al-Wefaq and now they are poised to do the same to Wa’ad, effectively closing off all independent political space in advance of the 2018 elections for the lower house of parliament. The authorities must immediately end this baseless attack on Wa’ad and expand protections for the rights to free expression and association.”

We again condemn in the strongest terms the government’s decision to dissolve Wa’ad and urge it to drop these legal proceedings. We additionally call on the government to widen space for peaceful political engagement by immediately and unconditionally releasing all political prisoners and by reinstating already-dissolved opposition groups, like Al-Wefaq.

Signed,

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)