1 August 2017 – On 9 March 2017, MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE) issued a Parliamentary Question addressed to EU HR/VP Mogherini on the lawsuit filed to dissolve Wa’ad the country’s last leading opposition party. On 30 June 2017, Ms Mogherini replied that “such moves will only serve to further divide Bahrain’s society and that the participation of all citizens in political life is key for stability in the country”.
On 6 March 2017, Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJ) announced that it was filing a lawsuit to dissolve Wa’ad, also known as the National Democratic Action Society, over allegations of “incitement of acts of terrorism and promoting violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime”. This move follows a statement made by Wa’ad on 14 February 2017, the anniversary of the country’s 2011 uprising, criticizing the Bahraini constitution. According to Amnesty International, the Ministry of Justice later charged Wa’ad for:
- Supporting Bahrain’s main opposition party Al Wefaq, which was dissolved in July 2016, and its Secretary General, Sheikh Ali Salman, a prisoner of conscience.
- Electing Ebrahim Sharif, a former prisoner of conscience, as a member of its Central Committee despite his having “lost his civil and political rights” when he was charged in 2011.
- “Advocating and inciting terrorism” after it condemned the execution of three men on 15 January – referring to them as “martyrs” – and calling “martyrs” other men who died or were killed by security forces in February.
These unsubstantiated allegations solely condemn Wa’ad’s rights to freedom of expression and association. Wa’ad has denied the charges. Its leaders have repeatedly condemned calls for violence and acts of violence against security forces and the party signed the National Declaration of Non-Violence Principles in 2012. On 31 May 2017, the court approved the dissolution of the society and the seizure of its assets. This is not the first time that Bahraini authorities target Wa’ad and its members, nor that it dissolve a political society. In July 2016, the Ministry of Justice used similar pretexts to dissolve Al Wefaq, the largest political society in the country.
In her question, Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) raised the decision made by the Government of Bahrain to launch legal proceedings to dissolve Wa’ad
On 6 March 2017, Bahrain’s Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs filed a lawsuit to dissolve the leading secular opposition party Waad, also known as the National Democratic Action Society. In a statement, the Ministry accused the party of inciting acts of terrorism and promoting the violent and forceful overthrow of the political regime.
The first hearing in the case is expected to take place on 20 March. A leader of the Waad group called the move an attempt to undermine political work by the opposition. In June 2016, the government took similar action when it ordered the dissolution of Al-Wefaq — the largest opposition group at the time. On 5 March 2017, the Consultative Council, a government advisory body, passed a constitutional amendment authorising military trials of civilians suspected of attacking security forces.
1. Is the VP/HR aware of the recent developments in Bahrain? What is her assessment?
2. Will the VP/HR make a public statement to denounce the lawsuit filed against the Waad party? If not, why not?
3. What action are the VP/HR and EEAS undertaking with regard to Bahrain? Is the establishment of a formal human rights dialogue with the Bahraini authorities under consideration?
On 30 June 2017, the High Representative and Vice President of the European Union Federica Mogherini provided the following response to the parliamentary question:
The EU is aware of the recent developments in Bahrain, including the proposed use of military courts to try civilians, the lawsuit filed to dissolve the political party Wa’ad and the dissolution of the Al Wefaq party. The EU considers that such moves will only serve to further divide Bahrain’s society and that the participation of all citizens in political life is key for stability in the country. These points have been consistently raised and will continue to be raised in our political dialogue with the Bahraini authorities.
In the framework of the informal dialogue on human rights with the Bahraini authorities on 3rd of April 2017, the EU raised all these issues with the Bahrain authorities through comprehensive exchanges on these decisions.
The EU advocated the need to ensure that citizens retain the ability to create and participate in political parties in full enjoyment of their political and civil rights. Likewise, the EU stated that due process and fair trial standards must be guaranteed.
The UPR on Bahrain offered a further opportunity to enhance the exchanges during the informal human rights dialogue by introducing concrete benchmarks to better guide and structure cooperation in this field.
Earlier in June, the EU noted during the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that:
The decision to file a lawsuit against the political society “Waad” and the resulting recent court decision to dissolve it do not contribute to creating a climate conducive to national reconciliation and are therefore potentially damaging domestic long-term stability.
ECDHR welcomes both Ms Mogherini’s answer and EU’s statement which demonstrate EU’s concerns for Bahrain unabated assault on peaceful dissent. However, ECDHR remains extremely concerned by the general political situation in Bahrain where no opposition voice can freely express itself.
Bearing in mind the 2018 parliamentary elections, ECDHR encourages the EU to condemn in stronger terms all forms of reprisal against peaceful opposition and to follow-up on the actions that needs to be taken by the Bahraini authorities to guarantee independent political space and the rights to freedom of expression and association.