Bahrain has banned political rallies in an attempt to try and halt protests against the regime that have been under way in the kingdom since February 2011, and have recently led to the death of two policeman.
The ban was announced by Interior Minister General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa on 30 October. He said the decision would be a temporary step to restore security after an opposition march in the same village where the two policemen had died went ahead despite permission being denied by the authorities.
“It is an opportunity for everyone to take a step back, calm down and gain some perspective,” said Sheikh Rashid.
Jawad Fairooz, a member of the main Shia opposition group Al-Wefaq said the ban was part of “a plan by the regime to escalate the use of force.” By banning protests the government was giving itself legitimacy to crackdown on gatherings, he added.
Low level protests demanding political reform on the island, ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa family, have continued since a brutal crackdown in March 2011 forced demonstrations out of the capital, Manama, and into the Shia villages. Although the government has made attempts at reform and hired US and UK experts to improve its policing of protests, opposition groups still complain about provocation by security forces and a failure to empower the islands majority Shia population.
The US, a key ally of the government of Bahrain, condemned the move to ban protests. “The United States is deeply concerned by the Bahraini government’s decision to ban all public gatherings,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. He added that the ban would “not help advance the national reconciliation nor build trust among all parties,” and also called on the opposition to refrain from “provocations and violence.”
London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International also criticised the ban. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director said the government must avoid “using the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the rights of all.”
The government says it is committed to allowing freedom of expression, but claims the organisers behind Bahrain’s protest movement have so far failed to control protesters.