Opposition Condemns Bahrain's Ban on Public Demonstrations

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Bahrain has banned all forms of public demonstration to prevent “all forms of extremism,” but As-Safir quoted pro-reform groups as saying the ban will lead to more violence. 

The decision of Bahraini Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashed Al Khalifa to stop all demonstrations and gatherings and ban the organization of any event was met with massive reactions from the opposition — including societies and demonstrators — who saw it as an escalation by the government and further suppression of the freedom of peaceful expression.

A statement by the Interior Ministry said that the ban will be effective until “security is ensured and the desired stability is achieved in order to maintain national unity and social cohesion and prevent all forms of extremism by any party.”

The interior minister said that “the repeated violations by the organizers of these events and the non-adherence of participants to the law is an extension of the illegal acts that took place during the months of February and March of 2011, during which demonstrators went as far as making calls to overthrow the regime and chanted shameful, disrespectful and deliberately insulting slogans against symbols of the nation and the sovereignty of the state. This threatens civil peace and leads to a breach of security and public order.”

The minister said that the demonstrations and “acts of violence, riots and attacks on public and private property” that accompanied them pose a real threat to civil peace and have angered several components of Bahraini society.

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Secretary General of the opposition Progressive Democratic Forum Society Abdul Nabi Salman told As-Safir that “the interior minister's decision is a step that takes us back to the days of the State of National Safety Law, which is not in line with the process of reform announced by the king in 2002. [The decision] represents a real regression in terms of freedoms, is not commensurate with the level of political mobility reached in the country, and will create a major crisis.”

He added: “It is the opposition political groups that are organizing marches and demonstrations. Preventing them from exercising this right will create chaos, and the Bahraini public will undertake non-organized efforts, which will create chaos. Accordingly, we expect further devolution towards violence. The political groups control the tone of the street, and this decision strips them of their role. Eventually, the situation will spiral out of control, which will lead to repeated incidents of violence and more victims.”

Salman expressed his opposition to the latest decisions, saying that they are restrictive and inconsistent with the constitution and the National Action Charter. He asked, “After the ban, what have the political groups been left with? We hope that this step does not aim to end political action in the country. It is a sin committed by the state against political groups and popular movements.”

Abdul Jalil Khalil, a leader in the opposition Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, told As-Safir that the decision contradicts the constitutional articles that guarantee the right to freedom of expression and Article 21 of the International Covenant signed by Bahrain. Therefore, it contradicts local and international laws.

He added: “The [justification] for the decision to ban marches and demonstrations to maintain civil peace is untrue. There is no civil war or sectarian conflict in Bahrain. The conflict is between the opposition and the ruling establishment. The opposition is demanding an elected government, fair constituencies, and a parliament with full powers, as well as justice, the independence of the judiciary and security for all parties. There is no reason for taking such a decision.”

Khalil added: “If the authorities think that the decision will end the crisis in Bahrain, it would be a miscalculation on its part. Over the past year and a half, the authorities have exercised murder, detention, torture and [random] layoffs. They have demolished mosques and banned [holding] events. Yet, peaceful political movements in Bahrain did not stop. The security solution and methods will not resolve the crisis, but will further exacerbate and deepen it. [The decision] will elicit mixed reactions that do not serve stability in the country.”

Khalil said that the opposition sticks by the demands it made in February 2011. He added that [Bahrain] today still needs a political solution [that should be achieved] through a serious and calm dialogue that discusses the ambitions of the Bahraini people to participate in running the country.

“The movement is civilized and peaceful and does not call for violence, and it will continue to be as such.”

Muhammad al-Samikh, a member of the Bahrain Human Rights Society, believes that the timing of the decision is very wrong and may lead to further violence and confrontations “because it forbids the people from [exercising] their right to peaceful expression, demanding their rights and [voicing] their grievances.”

He said that the decision will increase violence and create an environment of challenge.

“The decision reflects the intention of the Ministry of Interior to tighten its security grip in a more bloody manner,” Samikh added.
 

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