Bahrain’s supreme court of appeal has upheld the dissolution of the country’s main Shia opposition group, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, as the ruling Al Khalifah regime presses ahead with its heavy-handed clampdown on political dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
On Monday, the Court of Cassation turned down an earlier appeal to challenge al-Wefaq’s dissolution and seizure of its assets, and upheld a previous ruling.
On July 17, 2016, the Bahraini High Administrative Court ordered the dissolution of al-Wefaq and the seizure of its funds.
The court ruling drew criticism from the United Nations, with then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon describing the dissolution as “the latest in a series of restrictions of the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression in Bahrain.”
The Bahraini Justice Ministry had suspended the activities of the opposition group on June 14, 2016.
Distinguished Shia opposition cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, who used to lead al-Wefaq, was arrested in December 2014 for backing reforms in the country through peaceful means.
He was then sentenced on June 16, 2015 to four years in prison during a trial, which charged him with “publicly insulting the Interior Ministry” and “publicly inciting others to disobey the law” through his speeches. Britain-based rights body Amnesty International described the trial as “unfair.”
After appealing the verdict, Bahraini Supreme Court of Appeal increased Salman’s prison sentence to nine years in May on charges of inciting violence and calling for anti-regime demonstrations.
On June 20, 2016, Bahraini authorities also stripped al-Wefaq’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of his citizenship.
The Manama regime has charged Sheikh Qassim with illegally collecting funds, money laundering and helping terrorism, allegations which he has strongly rejected.
Thousands of anti-regime protesters have held demonstrations in Bahrain on an almost daily basis ever since a popular uprising began in the country in mid-February 2011.
They are demanding that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.
Manama has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.
Scores of people have lost their lives and hundreds of others sustained injuries or got arrested as a result of the Al Khalifah regime’s crackdown.
On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide. Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3 last year.