On Tuesday 22 January 2019, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation – commonly referred to as the court of last resort – upheld a ruling which dissolved the opposition group National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad) and confiscated its assets. American’s for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) strongly denounces the court’s decision to uphold the unlawful dissolution of Wa’ad and calls on the Bahraini government to allow Wa’ad and all other political societies to operate freely.

The Government of Bahrain launched legal proceedings to dissolve Wa’ad, the country’s leading secular, leftist opposition society, in March of 2017, citing unsubstantiated allegations of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime” after the society issued a statement describing Bahrain as experiencing a “constitutional political crisis.” In October 2017, Bahrain’s High Court of Appeals confirmed the asset seizure and dissolution of Wa’ad. This move followed 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. Now, following the decision by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation, Wa’ad had exhausted all appeals.

Bahraini authorities have regularly targeted Wa’ad and its members. The society’s headquarters were attacked multiple times and the group has repeatedly faced suspensions and threats. Bahraini authorities have continuously subjected its former secretary-general, Ebrahim Sharif, to various forms of judicial harassment. On 20 March 2017, officials charged Sharif with “inciting hatred against the regime” and against “factions of society” 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. Other Wa’ad leaders, including Sharif’s wife Farida Ghulam and former secretary-general Radhi al-Mosawi, have also faced regular judicial harassment, including recent arbitrary travel bans.

“The Bahraini government’s continued crackdown on civil and political society and freedoms of expression and association is deeply troubling,” says Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of ADHRB. “The ruling by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation shows the kingdom has no intention of lifting restrictions. Formal opposition groups and other means of peacefully voicing criticism are essential to the Bahrain’s stability.”

The confirmed closure of one of Bahrain’s main opposition societies raises concerns about the broader state of civil and political society in Bahrain. The repressive environment created by the government has left no space for individuals to raise concerns and express opinions. ADHRB calls on the Bahraini government to take concrete steps to re-instate all dissolved opposition societies and to allow them to operate without threat.