Saturday, December 16, 2017

In crackdown, Bahrain bans protests

CAIRO — Citing recent episodes of violence, Bahrain on Tuesday banned public rallies and demonstrations, a move that drew condemnation from activists and human rights groups who said it was intended to stifle criticism of the monarchy.

The tiny Persian Gulf nation is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

In a statement, Bahrain's interior minister said protests were banned after "repeated violations" by rally organizers, including riots, attacks on property and calls for the overthrow of "leading national figures."

A government spokesman, Fahad al-Binali, said in an interview that the ban would be temporary and was intended to "calm things down" after the recent deaths of protesters and police officers.

Instead, though, the move seemed likely to inflame the standoff involving a protest movement that has been unable to wrest freedoms from a government that opposition activists say is blocking all avenues for dissent.

"They don't want people to express their opinions, their anger," said Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a member of Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition group. "This will not take the country to stability."

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings almost two years ago, Bahrain's government has struggled to contain the protests, which have focused on the ruling Sunni monarchy's chokehold on political power and are fed by complaints by the nation's majority Shiite population of apartheidlike discrimination.

Backed by powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, Bahrain's government has faced little pressure to change, its critics charge.

The standoff has deteriorated into ever more violent, sometimes deadly confrontations. In the last two months, two teenagers have been killed by the security services, and a 19-year-old police officer was killed in what the authorities said was an attack on one of their patrols. Last week, another police officer died of injuries he sustained in April.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International said that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and "must be lifted immediately."

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