The September 17 arrest of prominent Bahraini opposition figure Khalil Marzook marks a significant escalation in the authorities’ attempts to portray all critics as terrorists, a tactic that runs counter to its supposed commitment to reform through a process of national dialogue.

The official Bahrain News Agency claimed that Marzook was “affiliated with the terrorist organization known as [14 February Coalition], a number of the leaders and members of which are on trial for criminal acts” and that the public prosecutor had charged him with “inciting and advocating terrorism.” Marzook, who denounced violence in the speech in which the authorities claim he incited terrorism, is the assistant secretary general of al-Wefaq, the main legal opposition group in Bahrain. Al-Wefaq announced this morning it was suspending its involvement in the national dialogue which resumed on September 14.

Bahrain’s deteriorating human rights record has led to a rash of international criticism in recent weeks. In addition to a joint statement from 47 governments at the UN Human Rights Council, a scathing European Parliament resolution and a public reproach from the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Bahrain endured rebukes from the UK and US ambassadors to Geneva. Both were angered by what they said were misrepresentations of private meetings they held with the Bahrain minister for human rights, after which Bahraini officials proclaimed UK and US support for the government’s human rights record.

It is more likely that Marzook’s arrest relates to the long-standing attempts of Bahraini hardliners to demonize and delegitimize the opposition than an obstinate response to international criticism, but if Bahrain’s recent past is any guide, there can be little doubt that its effect will be to stoke further dissent.