U.S. Government Should Respond to Threat Against Bahrain’s Opposition
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged the U.S. government to immediately respond to the Bahraini regime’s threats against the country’s main political opposition group, Al Wefaq. The group is in danger of being shut down by the government.
“Closing down Al Wefaq would be disastrous for Bahrain, and bring greater instability and risk to Washington’s interests in the region,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “Washington’s muted public response to the arrest of the group’s leader, Ali Salman, was followed this weekend by a new investigation into Al Wefaq. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is a slow-motion suffocation of the opposition.”
Al Wefaq is a major opposition group in Bahrain. It boycotted November’s parliamentary elections citing an unfair process, and in December its leader Ali Salman was arrested and is on trial charged with various speech-related offenses. Although its supporters and officials have been harassed and intimidated for some years, there is a new, apparently existential, threat to Al Wefaq.
Yesterday the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior announced it had “investigated recent statements by Al Wefaq on its website and Twitter account that are considered crimes that can be penalized by the law” and that “Al Wefaq also made calls for illegal rallies and incited hatred against the Interior Ministry and a foreign country.” The ministry said it has documented the group’s statements “to refer the case to the Public Prosecution.”
“When the Bahrain regime threatened to move against Al Wefaq in 2011, President Obama referred to the group by name during his September speech to the U.N. General Assembly,” said Dooley. “That seemed to help persuade Bahrain’s authorities to back off, but the threats are back, and real. The U.S. government needs to respond again before it’s too late.”
Leaders of other peaceful opposition groups remain in prison as Bahrain’s repression of dissident political and civil society voices continues. Leading activist Zainab Al Khawaja is due in court tomorrow on charges related to peaceful protests. Early yesterday morning prominent human rights defender Hussain Jawad was arrested in his home by a group of men, some of whom wore masks. His family told Human Rights First he was taken to the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) where they fear for his safety following regular reports of torture and ill-treatment on CID premises. Jawad’s wife Asma Darwish said he called her from detention later that day “for four seconds saying he was okay. I asked him if he was harmed—he replied yes.”
For more information see Human Rights First’s new blueprint, “How to Bring Stability in Bahrain”.