State condemns Bahrain's crackdown on political demonstrations

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The Persian Gulf kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been rocked by protests since the government quashed an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in February and March of last year, leaving more than 80 people dead. Bahrain has since established a commission of inquiry that faulted the government for systematic torture and made several recommendations to alleviate tensions.

The latest measure also threatens legal action against protest supporters amid intensifying complaints of discrimination against the Sunni-ruled country's Shiite majority. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa justified the decision by accusing protesters of fomenting violence and disrupting the economy.

Al-Khalifa on Wednesday called the ban “temporary.”

“Interior Minister: banning rallies & gatherings is a temporary decision until security is restored to protect national unity,” the Interior Ministry said on Twitter. “Freedom of expression is protected within the constitution and law.”

The Obama administration has been criticized for not supporting the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain, as it has in other Arab Spring countries. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has declined to challenge President Obama on the issue. 

Great Britain has criticized Bahrain, despite signing a defense cooperation agreement with the country earlier this month. 

“A blanket ban of this nature is excessive,” Alistair Burt, the British minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said Tuesday. 

“Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible.”

The human-rights group Amnesty International has also weighed in.

“Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is underway, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Middle East and North Africa Program deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. 

"Such a sweeping measure amounts to nothing less than nullifying the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly. Law enforcement officials must act to protect peaceful protesters rather than using the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the rights of all.”