Bahrain has banned all protests and rallies, arguing that a complete stop to such gatherings is needed to maintain security in the island nation.
Interior Minister Sheik Rashid ibn Abdullah Khalifa ordered the move, a sweeping attempt to bring its long-simmering unrest to a halt. An Interior Ministry statement issued Tuesday said “rallies and gatherings were associated with violence, rioting and attacks on public and private property.... They also were a major threat to the safety of the public.”
Anyone calling for rallies or taking part in them would face “legal actions,” the statement said.
Bahrain has been roiled by protests for more than a year by dissidents upset with the Sunni Muslim monarchy over police abuses and the marginalization of Shiite Muslims. While the government has undertaken some reforms, human rights groups and activists say abuses have continued, including the jailing of peaceful protesters. Amnesty International laments many “prisoners of conscience” remain behind bars.
Activists say few protesters are resorting to violence, but the continued suppression is fueling increasing unrest. Outside groups such as Human Rights Watch complain that the government has unlawfully attacked peaceful demonstrations with torrents of tear gas.
“If the government doesn’t allow any kind of peaceful protest, if it always attacks and suppresses them, of course it’s going to turn into something else,” said Maryam Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The new threat to take legal action against anyone calling for protests, she said, is alarming.
The Persian Gulf nation is a key ally of the United States in the region and is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Khawaja and other critics of the Bahrain government argue that the U.S. should take firmer action to protect protesters. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told a congressional commission earlier this year that “our best role is to be a quiet supportive voice on the outside."
-- Emily Alpert in Tadanoumi, Japan
Photo: Bahraini anti-government protesters clash with riot police amid clouds of tear gas in Malkiya, Bahrain, on Sunday. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press.