Bahrain court dissolves main Shi'ite opposition bloc for 'harbouring terrorism'

Anti-government protesters hold posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim during a protest in Budaiya on May 17, 2013.
Anti-government protesters hold posters of Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim during a protest in Budaiya on May 17, 2013. PHOTO: REUTERS

DUBAI (AFP) - A Bahraini court on Sunday (July 17) ordered the kingdom's main opposition group Al-Wefaq to be dissolved, a judicial source said, after authorities accused it of "harbouring terrorism".

The administrative court in Manama also ordered the Shi'ite movement's funds to be seized by the government, the source said.

The ruling comes despite appeals by the United Nations and United States for the legal process against the bloc to be dropped.

Al-Wefaq was the largest in parliament before its lawmakers resigned in protest at the crushing of 2011 protests calling for an elected government.

Washington has labelled the crackdown on it "alarming".

On June 28, its defence lawyers withdrew from court proceedings in protest at the government's push to accelerate the process, which was initially set for Oct 6.

The court already suspended all of Al-Wefaq's activities on June 14, ordering its offices closed and assets frozen.

The justice ministry, which had requested dissolving Al-Wefaq, accused the bloc of providing a haven for "terrorism, radicalisation and violence" and opening the way for "foreign interference" in the kingdom's affairs.

That was an allusion to Iran, which Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among its Shiite majority.

Al-Wefaq draws most of its support from the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

Its chief, Shi'ite cleric Ali Salman, is serving a nine-year jail term for inciting violence after a court in May more than doubled his sentence.

His arrest in December 2014 sparked protests in Bahrain, already rocked by a Shi'ite-led uprising that erupted in February 2011.