Bahrain dissolves main Shia opposition Al-Wefaq party

Manama dissolves main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq, accusing it of fostering violence in the island kingdom.

Protesters hold placards depicting photos of opposition leader and head of al-Wefaq party Sheikh Ali Salman during a protest after Friday prayers in the village of Diraz
Al-Wefaq's political leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, was sentenced to nine years in prison at the end of May [Reuters]

A court in Bahrain dissolved the main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq on Sunday, accusing it of helping to foster violence and “terrorism” in the island kingdom.

The ruling comes amid an increasing crackdown on opposition figures in the Sunni-led, Shia-majority Gulf monarchy, which in 2011 crushed a large pro-democracy protest movement.

Al-Wefaq was shut down last month under an emergency court order after the Justice Ministry accused it of undermining the state, spreading sectarianism, and having connections to “terrorist” activities.

The official Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said the court ruled that Al-Wefaq had taken aim at the “respect for the rule of law and the foundations of citizenship based on coexistence, tolerance and respect for others; provided an atmosphere for the incubation of terrorism, extremism and violence and for foreign interference in national affairs”.

Its funds would be claimed by the state treasury, BNA said.

READ MORE: Bahraini court suspends Al-Wefaq opposition group

Lawyers for Al-Wefaq said they had not yet decided whether to appeal against Sunday’s ruling.

They had withdrawn from the case after the judge refused their request to access the party offices to obtain documents they said were needed for their defence.

The ruling comes a day after authorities said they planned to prosecute Bahrain’s top Shia religious figure, 79-year-old Ayatollah Isa Qassim, for alleged illegal fund raising and money laundering.

Qassim, seen as the spiritual leader of Al-Wefaq, was stripped of his citizenship last month, angering his supporters who have mounted a sit-in outside his home in a village north of the capital Manama, fearing his deportation or arrest.

READ MORE: Iran warns Bahrain over revoking cleric’s citizenship

Al-Wefaq’s political leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, was sentenced to nine years in prison at the end of May on charges that include attempting to overthrow the regime and inciting sectarian hatred.

The crackdown has led the UN human rights office to call for the release of Bahraini political prisoners, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern over restrictions on the opposition and moves against human rights activists.

Bahraini Shia complain of discrimination by the government. Since the authorities crushed street protests in 2011, demonstrators have clashed frequently with security forces, who have been targeted by several bomb attacks.

Bahraini authorities deny any discrimination. Bahrain has accused the opposition of undermining security and blamed the bombings on Iran and Lebanon’s armed Shia group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah deny any involvement in Bahrain’s unrest.

Source: News Agencies