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Wed 31 May 2017 02:08 PM

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Bahraini court dissolves secular opposition party

Justice ministry had requested the dissolution of the National Democratic Action Society in March

Bahraini court dissolves secular opposition party

A Bahraini court dissolved a secular opposition party on
Wednesday, a judicial official said, as authorities in the Gulf state kept up a
crackdown on dissent.

The decision by the administrative court, just months
after the main party representing the kingdom's Shiite majority was also
banned, was swiftly condemned by human rights groups.

The justice ministry had requested the dissolution of the
National Democratic Action Society (Waed) in March.

It accused the party of "serious violations of the
principle of respect for the rule of law", "support of
terrorism" and "promotion of political change by force."

Bahrain has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when its Sunni
minority rulers crushed Shiite-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy
and an elected prime minister.

Last week, police shot dead five demonstrators in the
home village of the spiritual leader of the kingdom's Shiite majority.

The Sunni left-leaning former head of Waed, Ibrahim
Sharif, was released from prison last July after serving a one-year sentence
for incitement against the government.

He had already served four years of a five-year sentence
over the 2011 protests before being released under a royal amnesty in June

Last year, a court ordered the dissolution of the
country's main opposition party, Al-Wefaq, for "harbouring
terrorism". Its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been behind bars since

Shiite Al-Wefaq was the largest bloc in Bahrain's elected
lower house of parliament. Its members resigned en masse in protest against the
state crackdown on the 2011 protests.

Amnesty International said dissolving Waed was a
"flagrant attack on freedom of expression and association."

"By banning major political opposition groups,
Bahrain is now heading towards total suppression of human rights," the
director of research at its Beirut office, Lynn Maalouf, said.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said
Western inaction was emboldening the authorities to intensify their crackdown
on dissent.

"Shutting down the last opposition party is a
declaration of a de facto ban on all opposition," its director of
advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, said.

"This was allowed to happen because Bahrain feels
zero geopolitical and international pressure from 'champions of democracy' in
the West."

Tiny but strategic Bahrain, which lies just across the
Gulf from Iran, is a key regional ally of the United States and home to its
Fifth Fleet.

Manama has come under frequent criticism from
international human rights groups and the administration of Barack Obama often
criticised Bahraini authorities for not doing more to reconcile with the

However President Donald Trump made a clear break from
that policy during a visit to the region earlier this month, telling Bahrain's
King Hamad in neighbouring Saudi Arabia "there won't be strain with this