Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-government protesters have been staging regular demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said the Persian Gulf kingdom had banned all demonstrations and gatherings to ensure public safety and prevent violence, Reuters reported.
He said the move was necessary because violence accompanying protest marches and gatherings had disrupted traffic, affected trade and the economy and damaged private property.
London-based Amnesty said the measure nullified the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly.
"Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is under way, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, its Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
"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."
Bahrain's leading opposition party Al Wefaq described the ban as an attempt to silence it.
"We reject this decision and consider it against our constitutional right. There is no reason for it because all our events are peaceful," Al Wefaq official Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi told Reuters from Manama, adding that he feared the prohibition might lead to more tension in the street.
Britain has expressed concern over the ban and called on demonstrators to "desist from violent protest".
"A blanket ban of this nature is excessive," Alistair Burt, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said on Tuesday.
"Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible."
Bahrain has banned a series of protests organized by Al Wefaq in the past few months. A senior official said in July that the government had no plans to ban rallies outright, but wanted to ensure they did not turn violent.
Since April the authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on unrest. Activists cite an increased use of shotgun pellets, whose use officials have declined to confirm or deny.
Activists have been sentenced to jail for organizing or taking part in unlicensed anti-government protests.
The ruling Al Khalifa family used martial law and help from Persian Gulf neighbors to put down last year's uprising, but unrest has resumed. Pro-democracy protesters and police clash almost daily.
On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on the peaceful protesters.
According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested in the crackdown.
Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
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