Theresa May visited Bahrain only three months ago as part of a drive to deepen UK military and trading links. The UK has been funding efforts to set up a police ombudsman in Bahrain, but conceded in its 2016 annual human rights report that developments in the country were a cause for concern.
The Gulf state, led by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has been repeatedly accused of curtailing freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Rights groups allege that torture and other abuses are common, especially in the country’s notorious prisons.
On Monday Bahrain’s justice ministry filed a lawsuit seeking to dissolve the main remaining opposition group on the grounds that it undermined security, the state-run Bahrain news agency reported.
The secular National Democratic Action Society, or Wa’ad, had perpetrated “serious violations targeting the principle of respecting the rule of law, supporting terrorism and sanctioning violence by glorifying people convicted for terrorism cases”, the ministry said.
Authorities last year dissolved the then largest opposition group al-Wefaq and revoked the citizenship of the country’s top Shia Muslim cleric.
On Sunday the upper house of parliament approved a constitutional amendment that critics say will allow authorities to run the country under an undeclared state of martial law. The change will allow civilians to be tried by military courts if the case involves the military.
Low-level and occasionally violent unrest has agitated the Gulf kingdom since its Shia majority led protests in 2011 that were violently suppressed by the Sunni-led government with help from its Gulf Arab neighbours.
The sixth anniversary of the uprising last month led to a spate of violence, and claims by the authorities that they had uncovered a terrorist cell more than 50 strong operating in multiple locations.
There were also street protests in January when three Shia Muslim men convicted of killing an Emirati police officer and two Bahraini police officers in a 2014 bomb attack were executed.
Bahrain accuses Shia Iran of fomenting violence in the kingdom – a charge Tehran denies.
A motion to criticise Bahrain’s behaviour tabled by Switzerland at the UN human rights council in Geneva on Monday was expected to be beaten back in part due to UK fears it was not balanced.
The Foreign Office said: “The UK considers the proposed Swiss statement does not recognise some of the genuine progress Bahrain has made. Instead, we will be issuing a UK national statement that includes Bahrain.”
In a sign of the tensions, the mother-in-law and brother-in-law of the UK-based Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei were taken into custody by the Bahrain authorities on Sunday.
“Red lines are now being crossed in Bahrain, yet the British government refuses to endorse a balanced motion at the human rights council criticising Bahrain,” Alwadaei said.
Author: Patrick Wintour