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Bahrain court closes down main opposition group — lawyer

By Reuters - Jun 15,2016 - Last updated at Jun 15,2016

In this January 3, 2015 file photo, a masked Bahraini anti-government protester holds a picture of jailed Shiite cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the opposition Al Wefaq political association, as riot police fire tear gas canisters during clashes in Bilad Al Qadeem, Bahrain (AP photo)

DUBAI — A Bahraini court ordered the suspension of the country’s main opposition group Al Wefaq on Tuesday, its lawyer said, in what appeared to be an escalating campaign against dissent in the Western-allied Gulf Arab kingdom. 

Lawyer Abdallah Al Shamlawi said the court also set an October date for a hearing into dissolving Al Wefaq. The move came a day after authorities detained one of the country’s leading rights activists. 

Bahrain was rocked by mass protests by majority Shiite Muslims in 2011, when uprisings shook the Arab world, demanding a bigger role in running the Arab Gulf island which also hosts the US Fifth Fleet. 

Al Wefaq, which held 18 out of 40 parliamentary seats, pulled out of the assembly during the 2011 crackdown against mostly Shiite protesters demanding greater democracy. 

Shamlawi said that the court ordered Al Wefaq’s activities suspended and its offices closed, and set October 6 as the date for a hearing into the request for the dissolution of the group, whose full name is Al Wefaq National Islamic Society. 

“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,” he wrote on his Twitter account. 

The justice ministry said it had filed the request to dissolve Al Wefaq, which it said “works within a political, religious and foreign framework”, state news agency BNA reported. 

Residents said police were surrounding three of the group’s offices. Its website also appeared to be blocked in the country. 

Officials from Al Wefaq could not immediately be reached for comment, but rights activists said that the Bahrain Monitor for Human Rights had filed a complaint to the UN High Commission for Human Rights over the decision. 

Last month, an appeals court more than doubled a prison term imposed on Al Wefaq’s leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, in June last year to nine years from four. 

 

In February, a Bahraini court sentenced Ibrahim Sharif, former head of the secular National Democratic Action Society, or Waad, to one year in jail on charges of insulting the kingdom’s ruling system but cleared of the more serious charge of calling for regime change through illegal means. 

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