Advocacy Director Cole Bockenfeld discusses Bahrain’s clampdown on peaceful protests and the United States’ disappointing lack of response. 

This month, the Bahraini monarchy stopped permitting political protests as it continues to respond to unauthorized rallies with brutal force. The act of rejecting permits to protest — and thus closing off this peaceful channel of dissent — threatens to drive Bahrainis away from the moderate camp. Closing political space to legally protest is creating a volatile environment, where both police and demonstrators are increasingly resorting to violent means. Without a reversal of this policy, the Prime Minister and his hardline allies within the government will get just what they want — an excuse to crack down on a violent opposition that has no peaceful outlet to express its political grievances.

In the first six months of this year, opposition parties in Bahrain documented at least 20 requests for peaceful protests that were rejected. According to the government, 88 peaceful protests were also allowed during the same period. Throughout this time, formal political opposition parties played by the government’s rules, applying 72 hours in advance to the Ministry of Interior for permits to protest and accepting de facto bans on any demonstration inside the capital of Manama. But in the last month, Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior has rejected all opposition applications for planned protests pending further study, citing the need to end street violence and prevent the disruption of traffic. Before the end of July, frustrated opposition parties defied the ban, holding widespread demonstrations across the country and declaring a march in Manama. These unauthorized rallies were met with the same type of excessive force the island has witnessed for the past 18 months: protests across the country were attacked with a flood of tear gas, birdshot, beatings, and raids. According to the largest opposition party, al-Wefaq, the number of rallies denied permits has now reached 30 in July alone.

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Photo: Bahrain in pictures / Wikimedia Commons