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U.S. Alarmed Over Closure of Bahraini Opposition Group

Protesters hold photos of Sheikh Ali Salman, Bahrain's main opposition leader. (June 16, 2016)

The government of Bahrain has taken more troubling steps that appear aimed at stifling dissent.

The government of Bahrain has taken more troubling steps that appear aimed at stifling dissent.

Most recently, a Bahraini court, at the request of the government, ordered the suspension of the opposition political society, Al-Wefaq. U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby called the decision, alarming. He said, "We are following this situation closely and urge Bahraini officials to reconsider this decision. As we have consistently maintained, peaceful criticism of the government plays a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic societies."

In 2011 at the time of the Arab Spring, dozens died when the government of Bahrain suppressed protests demanding more rights . Spokesperson Kirby noted that Bahrain has made some progress in addressing the concerns and grievances of its citizens since then.

But Bahrain's move against Al-Wefaq "is not consistent with a commitment to sustaining that progress or pursuing unfulfilled reforms," said Mr. Kirby.

The United States is concerned this action against Al-Wefaq, as well as other recent decisions, including the detention of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and resentencing of Al Wefaq Secretary General Sheikh Ali Salman, will restrict freedom of expression and stunt reconciliation.

Over the last two years in Bahrain, activists have been jailed, had their citizenship revoked, and dozens have been expelled.

In February, a Bahraini court sentenced Ibrahim Sharif, former head of the National Democratic Action Society, to a year in jail on charges of insulting Bahrain's ruling system.

"Collectively," said Mr. Kirby, "these actions divert Bahrain from dialogue necessary to ensure its security and stability and to continue the reforms that its leadership has pursued in the 16 years since ‎King Hamad’s National Action Charter was approved."

The United States has consistently said opposition parties that peacefully voice criticism of the government play a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic states and societies. Creating an atmosphere in which a full range of political opinions can be peacefully expressed is essential in Bahrain, across the Middle East, and globally.