DUBAI: A Bahraini court banned the Gulf state’s main opposition movement for three months Tuesday, just weeks before a parliamentary election the group had already said it would boycott, a court official said.
Al-Wefaq said it was seriously concerned by the move, which it described as “irrational and irresponsible.”
The Manama administrative court ruled that Al-Wefaq, which draws most of its support from the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Shiite majority, had violated the law on associations.
Political parties are banned in key US ally Bahrain, as in other Gulf Arab monarchies. Al-Wefaq has the status of an association.
In July, the justice ministry sued Al-Wefaq, demanding it rectify its “illegal status following the annulment of four general assemblies for lack of a quorum and the non-commitment to the public and transparency requirements for holding them.”
The court gave the group three months to hold a general assembly to elect its leaders, the official said.
Without commenting on the accusations, Al-Wefaq responded saying “the tyrannical dictatorship in Bahrain is ruling with an iron fist and moving to destroy the political and social life by blocking the people out.”
The United States had voiced “strong concerns” over the lawsuit, warning of its potential impact on the November 22 polls.
Not only has Al-Wefaq announced a boycott, but so have other opposition groups.
In July, Bahrain’s chief prosecutor tested relations with close ally Washington when he charged Al-Wefaq head Ali Salman, and his political aide, ex-MP Khalil Marzooq, with violating a law on foreign contacts by meeting US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski.
Following the meeting, Bahrain told Malinowski he was “unwelcome” and said he should leave the country “immediately.”
-‘Elections face organized terrorism’-
Elections for a new 40-seat lower house of parliament are the first since 2011 protests demanding more representative democracy. Municipal elections will be held simultaneously.
Al-Wefaq, which led the protest movement against the Sunni regime, made slender gains in the last election, in 2010. But it withdrew its 18 MPs after the government crushed the protests in March 2011.
The opposition is demanding an independent election commission and the dissolution of the Consultative Council, parliament’s upper chamber whose members are appointed by the king.
It is also demanding the prime minister be appointed by parliamentary majority, instead of the king.
Bahraini authorities accuse Al-Wefaq of fuelling the unrest that continues across the kingdom, as people in Shiite villages hold frequent protests and sometimes clash with members of the security forces.
But Al-Wefaq insists on the “peaceful” nature of its movement.
Tensions are already running high with the pre-election campaign marked by sporadic acts of violence.
The authorities have been accusing dissidents during the past weeks of attacking candidates to whom the interior ministry has offered protection.
And government spokeswoman Sameera Rajab wrote on Twitter Friday that “elections in Bahrain are facing organized terrorism.”
But no major incidents or casualties have been reported.
The opposition took part in two rounds of dialogue after the uprising but withdrew from the talks, saying the authorities were not making enough concessions.
On Tuesday, Al-Wefaq vowed to “continue in its struggle for democratic transition and justice to build a democratic state for all Bahrainis and end the totalitarian rule that is excluding the people through harsh sentences and security measures that violate fundamental human rights.”
The International Federation for Human Rights says at least 89 people have been killed in Bahrain since the uprising began in February 2011.