Bahrain's High Civil Court orders the dissolution of last major opposition group Wa'ad
On 31 May, Bahrain’s High Civil Court ordered the dissolution of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad). The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJ) accused Wa’ad of breaching the Law on Political Association. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Bahrain’s decision to dissolve the last major political opposition group in its efforts to systematically dismantle the country’s independent political space.
In March 2017, the MOJ filed a lawsuit to dissolve Wa’ad on allegations of “advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes.” There was no evidence to substantiate the allegations. This came after the government’s decision in July 2016 to dissolve the political society Al-Wefaq, which was at that time the largest political opposition society in the country. Wa’ad and its leaders have continuously stated that they are committed to peaceful means, and oppose violence, whilst denying the charges against them. The Wa’ad party signed the National Declaration of Non-Violence Principles in 2012.
Consequently, the government of Bahrain continues its crackdown on freedom of association and expression by banning and dissolving Wa’ad in the same way as Al-Wefaq.
The decision to forcibly dissolve Wa’ad was, according to the Ministry of Justice, based on three cases in which Wa’ad has breached the Law on Political Association. After the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, Wa’ad had expressed solidarity with the group. They had also used the term "Martyrs of the Nations" whilst describing the execution of three men in January 2017. On the anniversary of the 14 February protests, Wa’ad issued a statement saying that Bahrain was in a “constitutional political crisis.”
Lyn Maalouf, Director of Research at Amnesty International’s Beirut Regional Office, has said that “by banning major political opposition groups, Bahrain is now heading towards total suppression of human rights.” The forcible dissolution of Wa’ad demonstrates that Bahrain is continuing to flagrantly attack freedom of expression and association in spite of recent recommendations made at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review.
The Bahraini government has also targeted individuals who are members, and leaders of, political opposition parties. On 20 March, the leader of Wa’ad, Ebrahim Sharif, was charged with "inciting hatred against the regime" under article 165 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. Sharif now faces up to three more years in prison if convicted of the charges against him. The seven tweets presented as evidence by the public prosecution covered a variety of topics. The posts on social media included a response to a statement by Tunisia’s Minister of Interior and a tweet of Amnesty International campaign materials on Bahraini prisoners of conscience. Sharif was questioned over messages relating to Abdulla Al-Ajooz, a Bahraini teenager who died in February 2017 during arrest. Sharif had questioned the official narrative of Al-Ajooz’s death, and referred to the deceased as a martyr. Sharif’s posts on social media were also critical of the MOJ decision to dissolve political opposition societies in Bahrain.
BCHR calls for all charges against Ebrahim Sharif to be dropped, and that the government lift restrictions on independent political and civil society space in Bahrain, with a view towards resuming a legitimate process of dialogue. BCHR further recommends that Wa’ad is reactivated, and that there is an open space for political parties and civil society to operate without fear of reprisals.