September 20, 2013
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group is defying a ban by the island’s Sunni government to have direct contacts with foreign diplomats.
Al Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheik Ali Salman, met Norwegian political affairs envoy Hakon Smedsvig on Thursday in the Bahraini capital, Manama. Bahrain’s Western-backed monarchy earlier this month banned all diplomatic contacts by political groups unless they receive official permission. The move was sharply criticized by Western governments, including the U.S.
This week, authorities detained a top Al Wefaq official on allegations of inciting violence. In return, the group announced a boycott of reconciliation talks with the government. The strategic Gulf nation has been gripped by unrest since an uprising launched in early 2011 by majority seeking a greater political voice.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement that in the last two years the Bahraini government and oppositions groups have been involved in important dialogue but that recent developments have hindered the process.
“The Government of Bahrain has recently issued decrees restricting the rights and abilities of political groups to assemble, associate, and express themselves freely, including by regulating their communications with foreign governments and international organizations,” the statement said.