DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's justice ministry took steps on Monday to dissolve a major opposition group it accuses of supporting terrorism, state news agency BNA reported, filing a lawsuit the group said was an attempt by the government to stamp out dissent.
The Western-allied kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been a political flashpoint since "Arab Spring" protests in 2011 led by its Shi'ite majority were put down by the Sunni-led government with the help of Gulf Arab states.
The crackdown entered a new phase last year when authorities banned the main Shi'ite Muslim opposition group, al-Wefaq, and revoked the citizenship of the country's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric.
Monday's move targeted the secular National Democratic Action Society (Waad), which the ministry accused of "serious violations targeting the principle of respecting the rule of law, supporting terrorism and sanctioning violence".
Radhi al-Mooswai, a leader of the group, expressed shock, saying Waad was committed to peaceful political work and rejected violence. "This is another step to undermine political work by the opposition in Bahrain," he told Reuters.
Moosawi said Waad would use all its resources to fight the order in court. Arabic daily al-Ayyam, which is close to the government, said the first hearing was expected on March 20.
Al-Wefaq won 18 out of 40 seats in elections in 2010 but pulled out of parliament a year later during the Arab Spring crackdown. Both it and Waad boycotted elections in Nov. 2014 that were swept by pro-government and independent candidates.
Attacks on public targets have jumped this year after authorities carried out a death sentence on three men convicted of a deadly bombing of policemen in 2014. Bahrain accuses Shi'ite Iran of fomenting violence in the kingdom, a charge Tehran denies.
A government advisory body passed a constitutional amendment on Sunday authorising civilians suspected of attacking security forces to be tried in military courts.
Reporting By Noah Browning and Sami Aboudi,; Editing by Toby Chopra and Stonestreet