The UAE government has issued a decree dissolving the elected board of directors at a legal association, as the backlash against a petition calling for political reform continues.

The decree, signed by social affairs minister Mariam Mohammed Khalfan al-Roumi, dismissed the board of the Jurist Association and replaced its members with state appointees.

The association, described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as “one of the country’s most prominent civil society organisations”, and three other non-governmental organisations had signed a petition on April 6 calling for a broader electoral base and decision-making power for the Federal National Council (FNC). The FNC is a 40-strong advisory body that is elected by only a handful of local emiratis.

According to the decree, the Jurist Association violated section 16 of the UAE’s 2008 Law on Associations, which prohibits non-governmental organisations and its members from interfering “in politics or in matters that impair state security and its ruling regime”.

HRW criticised the government’s decision, and urged it to reverse the decree. “The action against the Jurist Association is part of a broader crackdown on peaceful dissent by the UAE government,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The government is reacting to domestic criticisms by banning websites, detaining peaceful activists, and intensifying its chokehold on civil society,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.

The clamp down on the Jurist Association was preceded by the recent arrest of four political activists.