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Bahrain Court Orders Dissolution of Last Major Opposition Group

  • Associated Press

FILE - This image provided by an activist who requested to remain unnamed shows Bahraini security forces during a raid on a sit-in demonstration, in Diraz, Bahrain, May 23, 2017.

A court in Bahrain ordered the country's last main opposition group dissolved and its property confiscated Wednesday in the latest blow to reformers and dissenting voices in the Middle Eastern island nation.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said the political society known as Waad planned to appeal the ruling. Waad confirmed the court order for its dissolution on its official Twitter account.

The Justice Ministry had launched proceedings to dissolve the 15-year-old group, alleging that Waad incited acts of terrorism, promoted the violent overthrow of the Sunni-led government and "glorified convicted terrorists and saboteurs." The government used similarly broad wording to dissolve the country's largest Shi'ite opposition group, al-Wefaq.

Bahrain is a majority Shi'ite nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy with close ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which sent forces to help quell an Arab Spring-style uprising in 2011.

The government accuses Shi'ite-ruled Iran, which lies across the Persian Gulf from Bahrain, of arming and training some protesters to destabilize the country. Shi'ite militant groups have claimed responsibility for some deadly attacks on police, but Iran denies it has trained or assisted groups in Bahrain.

Waad's dissolution came a week after five people died in a police raid on the hometown of a prominent Shi'ite cleric who was stripped of his nationality and faces possible deportation. Police arrested 286 people in the raid, adding to the hundreds more who have been jailed, forced into exile or stripped of their nationality in recent years.

Both Shi'ite, Sunni activists

Two smaller opposition groups remain active, but Waad was seen as the last major opposition group still functioning in Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The secular group included both Shi'ite and Sunni activists and political figures. Its offices were targeted by vandals and twice set ablaze.

"Today matters because it says the government won't just not tolerate Shi'ite opposition, it won't tolerate any opposition," Brian Dooley, a senior adviser at Human Rights First, told The Associated Press.

Rights group Amnesty International said Bahrain "is now heading towards total suppression of human rights" with Wednesday's court ruling.

The case stems from a statement Waad made in February on the anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising in which the group criticized the Bahraini constitution.

"Their only so-called 'crime' is exercising their right to freedom of expression and association," said Lynn Maalouf, director of research at Amnesty International's Beirut regional office.

Separately, Amnesty International reports that human rights activist Ebtisam al-Saegh said she was tortured for seven hours in Bahrain during an interrogation last month. She said she was blindfolded, beaten, kicked and kept standing for most of the time, and that she was threatened with the rape of her daughter and the torture of her husband.

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