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Thu 22 Sep 2016 04:22 PM

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Amnesty slams Bahrain court's decision to uphold Al Wefaq ban

Rights group says decision to dissolve main opposition part is 'flagrant attack on freedom'

Amnesty slams Bahrain court's decision to uphold Al Wefaq ban

A Bahraini court's decision to uphold the dissolution of the country’s main opposition political group, Al-Wefaq, has been slammed as a "flagrant attack on freedom" by Amnesty International.

The UK-based rights group said authorities in the Gulf kingdom had failed to present evidence that Al Wefaq was anything more than a "peaceful opposition movement".

The original decision on July 17 was based on accusations that Al Wefaq supported violence in a series of Twitter posts in 2015, had criticised the government, encouraged mass marches and sit-ins to incite sectarian opposition, and showed solidarity with its imprisoned Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, a prisoner of conscience.

In June, Bahraini authorities suspended the group’s activities, closed its offices and froze its assets.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim-led government has come under criticism from its Western allies and rights groups for its handling of dissent. Activists say a major crackdown is underway targeting Shi'ite and secular opposition.

Bahrain's Shi'ites say they suffer discrimination, though the government denies this. Manama accuses Shi'ite power Iran of fomenting unrest on its soil, and before shutting down al Wefaq the Justice Ministry accused it of working in a "foreign framework".

Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy director Philip Luther said: “The decision to uphold the dissolution of Al-Wefaq is a flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association and a brazen attempt to suppress criticism of the government in Bahrain.

“The Bahraini authorities have not presented any credible evidence that Al-Wefaq is anything but a peaceful opposition movement which has been seeking reform in the country in the face of increasing government repression.

“In the absence of independent institutions to scrutinise the government and hold the authorities to account, peaceful opposition movements are particularly important. Silencing critical voices encourages further human rights violations and abuse of power.”

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