Political Associations Under Threat in Bahrain as Regime Renews Crackdown on Opposition

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Bahraini protesters march during a demonstration against the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman (on the posters), head of the opposition movement al-Wefaq, in Salman's home village of Bilad al-Qadeem, on the outskirts of the capital Manama on January 16, 2015. AFP/Mohammed al-Shaikh

By: Abdel Rahim Assi

Published Saturday, January 17, 2015

The crisis in Bahrain is escalating as the al-Khalifa regime has decided to take advantage of the regional situation — with the major players preoccupied with other threats — to step up its crackdown on the opposition, and unsettle the climate of de-escalation that prevailed in the country since the opposition agreed to engage in a dialogue.

As the world is preoccupied with other regional events, the crisis in Bahrain that subsided for a short period has returned again to the headlines of the region. The al-Khalifa regime has taken advantage of the situation, escalating the confrontation with the opposition, and putting the success of the dialogue in doubt.

The Bahraini regime’s escalation was gradual. First, it insisted on holding parliamentary elections despite the opposition’s boycott, and despite the reports about vote rigging. The election produced a fully pro-regime parliament, and a new government was subsequently formed, completely ignoring the opposition.

The international praise for the election, especially from the United States and the United Kingdom, and the role of Iain Lindsay, the British ambassador in Manama, in making it a success — to the point that he came across as a PR consultant for the regime — encouraged the Bahraini authorities to continue the crackdown on the opposition, and undermine the last remaining foundations of democracy and freedom in the country.

The Bahraini regime proceeded to arrest Secretary-General of the opposition Islamic National Accord Association or al-Wefaq Sheikh Ali Salman and then to extend his detention without legal justification. The authorities then sentenced Jamil Kazim, president of al-Wefaq’s Shura Council, representative of the opposition, to six months in prison, for something he posted on his personal Twitter account. These developments have been accompanied by almost daily arrests and raids, following protests, some of which were violently put down.

The “hawks” of the Bahraini regime could issue a decision suspending the Political Associations Law. Informed sources told Al-Akhbar that the move would be a prelude to disbanding political associations in the country.

The sources said the “hawks” of the regime want to banish the leaders of opposition groups outside the country, including those who took part in the revolutionary movement, believing this would be a serious blow to the opposition. These sources reckoned the regime’s intentions would be revealed at the end of the month — either towards escalation, or de-escalation and return to dialogue.

Reports about the regime’s intentions are corroborated by statements made by Bahraini Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa to journalists last Saturday, in which he said that the arrest of Sheikh Ali Salman had been planned before the parliamentary elections, confirming the intentions of the Bahraini regime against opposition forces.

The decision of the Public Prosecution next week regarding Sheikh Ali Salman’s case will be crucial in determining the next stage. It will be a real and serious test of the regime’s intentions vis-a-vis the opposition.

Current indications do not suggest the regime intends to resolve the problem. On the contrary, the regime, in addition to cracking down violently on peaceful demonstrations, and ignoring the demands to release Salman, made matters worse by sentencing Jamil Kazim to prison.

Salman’s lawyer Abdullah al-Shammari is not optimistic regarding the impending decision of the Public Prosecution. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, he said, “The Public Prosecution’s rejection of the appeal requests made by Salman’s defense teams and its decision to renew his detention for 15 days paves the way for referring Salman directly to trial.”

Shammari believes the Public Prosecution is likely to indict Salman and refer him to court while remanding him into custody.

Al-Wefaq, in turn, is not optimistic and does not expect Salman to be released after his renewed detention period expires next Tuesday.

Al-Wefaq political bureau member Ahmed al-Alawi said all indications suggest that the regime will put Salman directly on trial. Alawi told Al-Akhbar that the results of al-Wefaq’s talks with the ambassadors of the US and the UK did not meet their expectations.

“Although the regime’s allies, Washington and London, are aware of Sheikh Salman’s peaceful attitudes since the start of the 2011 revolution, the positions of the ambassadors did not go beyond stressing the need for Salman to have a fair trial, even though they know fully that the justice system in the country follows the orders of the regime,” Alawi said.

Alawi also said that Washington and London viewed the Bahraini question in the context of other outstanding issues in the region, believing that they could get Salman released if they wanted to, by putting pressure on the regime. “However, this will not happen, because a green light was given for an escalation,” Alawi added.

As for the regime’s intention to suspend the Political Associations Law, Alawi, based on indications from the most recent parliamentary election, said he did not discount that the regime would go further, disband all political associations and banish their leaders outside of Bahrain. Alawi said the regime’s allies, particularly the US, do not want to provoke Saudi Arabia at this time, and thus have decided to ignore developments in the country except for making some empty statements.

For his part, Secretary-General of the Progressive Democratic Forum Abdul-Nabi Salman says that the situation in Bahrain is heading towards more escalation. He told Al-Akhbar, “The regime has decided to escalate and ignore calls for a resolution to the crisis through serious dialogue.”

Salman continued, “Detaining Sheikh Ali Salman will not benefit the regime primarily, but the extremist wing that has an agenda to lead the country into chaos, which the opposition does not want.” Consequently, Salman called on “wise people to put pressure on the judiciary to release Sheikh Salman, to avoid further tension in the country.”

The Progressive Democratic Forum leader also stressed that any move by the regime to disband political associations and banish their leaders would be “a mistake and would not reflect reason on the part of the regime. He explained that “it is opposition political associations that have guaranteed legal [political] action in the country, especially in the past four years, saving the country from being dragged into chaos, and maintaining the uprising in the peaceful scope rather than be drawn into violence.”

In turn, the Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), Radhi al-Musawi, stressed that security and political escalation in the country is part of the drive to shore up the role of the Bahraini police state that has been growing since the February revolution. He said, “The regime is trying to take advantage of the changes taking place in the region to tighten its security grip and marginalize any dialogue with the opposition.”

“If the regime disbands political associations in the country, this would mean that there would be nothing left of the project for political reform demanded by the opposition,” Musawi added, cautioning that this would lead to further risks to civil peace and social stability in Bahrain.

So how does the opposition plan to counter the regime’s intentions?

Opposition leaders emphasize that the advocacy movement will not deviate from peaceful means, and say the opposition would continue its efforts within the legal framework to fulfill the demands of the Bahraini people. Nevertheless, opposition leaders are all in agreement that the regime has succeeded in internationalizing the Bahraini question, and hence linked any solution to a comprehensive solution to all of the region’s issues.

In this regard, al-Wefaq political bureau member Ahmed al-Alawi called on the regime’s main allies to put pressure on it, to engage in serious dialogue that would lead to a resolution of the crisis, and called on the regime itself not to base the solution to the crisis on other regional developments.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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Bring Bahrain to ICC for its crimes against its people!

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