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A Blow Against Civil Society in Bahrain

FILE- Bahrain human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

In recent months, Bahrain has been cracking down on dissent, activists, journalists, and political opposition.

A Blow Against Civil Society in Bahrain
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In recent months, Bahrain has been cracking down on dissent, activists, journalists, and political opposition, primarily targeting members of the Shi’a community and arguing that criticism of the government promotes sectarianism and threatens national unity and security.

Recently, the police re-arrested human rights activist and outspoken government critic Nabeel Rajab on accusations of “spreading false news.” Furthermore, travel bans have been placed on civil society actors and journalists, including reporter Nazeeha Saeed, in addition to activists planning to attend this month's UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The government also announced that it revoked prominent Shi’a cleric Shekikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship without giving him the opportunity to appeal that revocation in court.

In June, authorities suspended the activities of the main opposition political society, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, and froze its funds. Then, on July 17th, Bahrain’s High Civil Court ordered al-Wefaq to be dissolved on accusations of undermining the state, spreading sectarianism, having connections to terrorist activities and building “a new generation that carries the spirit of hatred”. The party’s assets are to be liquidated and all proceeds transferred to the national treasury. The July 17 court decision is subject to appeal.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the decision of a Bahraini court to dissolve the opposition Al Wefaq political society and liquidate its assets,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a written statement.

“The government’s recent steps to suppress nonviolent opposition only undermine Bahrain’s cohesion and security, as well as the region’s stability. These actions are inconsistent with U.S. interests and strain our partnership with Bahrain. They also contradict the government’s stated commitments to protecting human rights and achieving reconciliation with all of Bahrain’s communities,” said Secretary of State Kerry, while also regretting the missed opportunity of Wefaq’s boycott of November 2014 elections and acknowledging the real security threats that Bahrain faces.

“[The United States] call[s] on the Government of Bahrain to reverse these and other recent measures, return urgently to the path of reconciliation, and work collectively to address the aspirations of all Bahrainis. This is the best way to marginalize those who support violence, and bring greater security and stability to the region. For our part, the United States will continue to support steps by all sides to advance a political dialogue.”