Bahrain freezes human rights group and appoints new head

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's government on Wednesday suspended the board of a prominent human rights group, accusing it of being too partial to the country's Shiite majority.

The Ministry of Social Development issued a statement saying an investigation had been carried out in to the Bahrain Human Rights Society — the country's first such organization founded in 2001.

"The society had moved away from being impartial for all sections of the Bahraini society that led to many complaints sent to the ministry," the statement said.

The ministry ousted the group's director, Abdullah al-Derzai, and will appoint a new temporary head by decree while a new board will be elected, the statement added.

The move comes amid a government crackdown following a series of Shiite-led protests over discrimination that turned violent.

The government has arrested some 250 Shiite activists, and has accused 23 of them of forming a terrorist network and trying to topple the country's Sunni-dominated government.

Al-Derazi, the head of the society, confirmed the board's dismissal.

"The Ministry of Social Development decided to freeze the powers of the board of the society and appoint a new executive director," he told The Associated Press.

The Bahrain Human Rights Society was the first non-governmental organization established after a series of political reforms in 2001. It was tasked by the government to monitor elections in 2006.

The tension comes a month before elections for parliament, where Shiites hold more than 40 percent of the seats.

On Tuesday, Bahrain's top Shiite clerics called on the government to release the arrested activists, saying their detention and the government's refusal to resolve their grievances through dialogue would only fuel violence.

Shiites are a majority in Bahrain, but the tiny Gulf island, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet is ruled by a Sunni royal family.

On Sunday, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa decried the suspects' alleged plot and announced plans for greater government monitoring of "religious forums" — an apparent reference to Shiite clerics and others who seek to challenge the Sunni-led system.