Blow to Pro-Democracy Movement as Bahrain Bans Public Dissent

Bahraini riot police detain a man during a protest march in Manama last week. (Photo: Hasan Jamali / AP.)

Blow to Pro-Democracy Movement as Bahrain Bans Public Dissent

Government and Shia Muslim majority continue to clash

The Bahrainian government on Tuesday banned all protests and demonstrations as police and anti-government demonstrators continue to clash following nearly two years of sometimes violent unrest.

The order is the harshest attempt to quell the anti-government uprising since martial law was imposed last year, Al Jazeerareports today.

It follows by less than three weeks a protest by thousands who clashed with riot police in the Bahranian capital of Manama.

The country's Shia Muslim majority -- about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens -- claims "they face systematic discrimination" and has sought a greater political voice since the Arab Spring uprising began in early 2011. Leaders of the Sunni-ruled kingdom claim to have made concessions inluding giving more powers to the elected parliament.

Bahrain is an ally of the US government and home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet. The US has called for increased dialogue between the two parties, according to The Guardian.

The ban came amid claims by Interior Minister Lt. General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifah of "repeated abuse" of the rights of freedom of speech and expression.

Sheikh Rashid said protests would be permitted once security and stabiity were sufficient to maintain national unity, but that until then, any "illegal gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for and participating in it."

Since February 2011, more than 50 people, including 2 policemen, have been killed in the unrest, the Guardian reports.

The protests intensified last month after riot police officers clashed with mourners at a funeral procession for a 17-year-old killed in an earlier bout of street violence, The New York Timesreports.

In March 2011, King Hamad banned demonstrations during a three-month state of emergency, according to the BBC.

Sheikh Rashid said Monday that the protests called for the overthrow of the state and leading national figures, according to the BBC, were "devoid of respect and intended humiliation, hence they jeopardize civil peace and disturb security and general order."

He said the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest Shia opposition group, organized the events.

An al-Wefaq official, hadi-al-Musawi, told the Associated Press that the declaration "went against international human rights".

In September, according to the BBC, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pailly said criticizing the government and calling for reforms were "not crimes," and that "the government must engage in an open, genuine and meaningful idalogue with the opposition."

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