World News

Bahrain closes Islamist party, cites "violent" cleric

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahrain court has dissolved a Shi’ite Islamist political party which has played a role in the Gulf Arab state’s wave of unrest, on the grounds that it answers to a religious authority who calls for violence.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally ruled by the Sunni Al Khalifa family, has been in turmoil since protests, led mainly by majority Shi’ites, broke out in February last year.

The Islamic Action party, Amal, follows a “hostile clerical authority who blatantly calls for violence and instigates hatred”, the Information Affairs Authority said in a statement on Tuesday. The court order came on Monday, it said.

The statement appeared to refer to the Iraq and Britain-based cleric Sayed Hadi al-Modarresi, an Iraqi who lived in Bahrain until he was accusing of plotting a coup in the island state after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

He directed video messages from abroad to Shi’ite protesters in Bahrain during last year’s uprising.

The statement said Amal had also broken regulations by failing to submit a copy of its annual budget to the ministry of justice, by not holding a public convention in four years, and by holding its last convention in a house of worship.

It also said the group had failed to give a “clear and definitive rejection and condemnation of acts of setting fires, sabotage, terrorizing citizens, endangering their lives, jeopardizing their freedoms and putting them and their property in direct danger”.

Authorities threatened to close Amal and the leading opposition group Wefaq last year during a crackdown on protests that erupted in the wake of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Intervention by U.S. officials appeared to thwart the plan.

A spokesman for Amal was not available for comment but Wefaq said the court’s action was part of a campaign to intimidate opposition parties.

“It is another indicator of the slow crackdown that’s going on. Bahrain is swimming against the current; I’m sure this policy will fail,” said Matar Matar, a former Wefaq member of parliament.

Amal has often set itself apart from a coalition of opposition parties led by Wefaq. It has complained of being targeted because it rejected out of hand the idea of a national dialogue with the government aimed at ending political crisis.

Clashes between protesters and police continue daily. Authorities have tried to stop organized protests by opposition parties over the past month by refusing to license them and using tear gas on those who turn up.

The government says youth protesters attack police without provocation and hold unlicensed protests in villages.

The opposition coalition want full powers for the elected parliament and a cabinet fully answerable to parliament. The government, dominated by the Al Khalifa family, has increased parliament’s powers of scrutiny over ministers.

Writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by Andrew Roche