6 March 2017 – The Government of Bahrain has today launched legal proceedings to dissolve Wa’ad, the country’s leading secular, leftist opposition society. The move follows the government’s summer 2016 suspension and dissolution of the largest political society, Al-Wefaq, which rendered Wa’ad the last major opposition group in Bahrain. We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms the Government of Bahrain’s efforts to dissolve Wa’ad and to systematically dismantle the country’s independent political space.
On Monday, Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJ) announced in a statement carried by the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) that it was filing a lawsuit to dissolve Wa’ad, also known as the National Democratic Action Society, over allegations of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime.” The MOJ did not provide evidence of its accusations.
This is not the first time that Bahraini authorities have targeted Wa’ad and its members. In 2011, security forces arrested and tortured the society’s Sunni leader, Ebrahim Sharif, for his involvement in the pro-democracy movement. A military court convicted Sharif and he served four years of his prison sentence. Soon after Sharif’s arrest, the government suspended Wa’ad for a communiqué it alleged “was critical of the armed forces and disseminated false news to cause sedition and divisions between citizens,” closing its offices and blocking its website. The society’s headquarters was twice burnt down and vandalized during the same period, and another of its leaders, Munira Fakhro, had her home repeatedly attacked. Later, in November 2014, the government again suspended Wa’ad, along with Al-Wefaq, in the run-up to that year’s election cycle for the lower house of the National Assembly, Bahrain’s largely symbolic parliament.
More recently, the Bahraini government re-arrested Sharif in 2015, only weeks after he was previously released from his 2011 prison term. The arrest came soon after the United States lifted an arms ban on Bahrain stemming from human rights concerns, citing Sharif’s pardon as a key sign of progress. Sharif served a new one-year prison term for charges related solely to a speech he had delivered during his brief period at liberty. Moreover, after he completed his second sentence, the government filed additional charges against Sharif for an interview he gave to the Associated Press in November 2016, though these were later dropped amid international pressure. That same month, the authorities interrogated Wa’ad’s then Secretary-General Radhi al-Musawi and banned him from travel.
“The dissolution of Wa’ad would mean the government’s complete destruction of the peaceful opposition bloc in Bahrain,” said Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei, Director of Advocacy for the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD). “It would also represent a coup de grace in what has been an unrelenting attack on the country’s political space over the last year, as well as a complete termination of all formal avenues for expressing dissent or the right to free political association.”
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. These decisions came in the absence of defense counsel, as Al-Wefaq’s legal team resigned over government interference, including security forces preventing them from entering the society’s headquarters to obtain necessary documents. It is now expected that Wa’ad will be subject to comparable measures.
“It is no coincidence that – in particularly just the last two months – the Government of Bahrain has felt free to commit some of the most flagrant violations of basic civil, political, and human rights we’ve seen since 2011,” said Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB). “The disturbing disdain for human rights and international institutions expressed by the new US president, coupled with the general effort to mute international criticism led by Bahrain’s other key ally in the UK, has generated an emboldened Manama that feels completely secure in eliminating any legitimate challenge to the repressive status quo.”
The government’s legal action against Wa’ad is extremely concerning and will serve to further escalate the country’s political crisis. We unequivocally condemn this decision and call on the Government of Bahrain to cease all forms of reprisal against peaceful opposition, including the arbitrary dissolution of registered societies like Wa’ad and Al-Wefaq. We additionally call on the government to release unconditionally all political leaders, religious figures, and human rights defenders imprisoned on charges related solely to nonviolent activism or free expression.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights