Bahrain suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group in a surprise court hearing Tuesday, intensifying its crackdown on dissent five years after Arab Spring protests rocked the island kingdom, The Associated Press reports:
The Al-Wefaq opposition group has been suspended before amid turmoil over the protests and lingering unrest. The small Shiite-majority island off the coast of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, which has imprisoned several activists and deported others.
Abdulla al-Shamlawi, the lawyer who represented Al-Wefaq in court, denied all the allegations.
“It was out of the blue,” al-Shamlawi told The Associated Press. “They say Al-Wefaq is the sole danger to national security.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby urged Bahrain to reconsider its decision, Reuters adds.
“Peaceful criticism of the government plays a vital role in inclusive, pluralistic societies,” he told a briefing.
The decision came a day after leading Bahraini human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was rearrested by the authorities. Zainab al-Khawaja, another prominent activist [and World Movement for Democracy participant], fled to Denmark earlier this month after being released from prison.
Tuesday’s court decision shows Bahrain “is bulldozing its civil society,” said Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy [a group supported by the National Endowment for Democracy].
“Bahrain is only reforming itself into a state of silence and terror,” al-Wadaei said in a statement.