New National Assembly recommendations could return Bahrain to "martial law"

  • 0
On Sunday July 28th, Bahrain's National Assembly was recalled by King Hamad for an emergency session "to discuss toughening penalties [...] with respect to protection of the Community against terrorist acts". Analyst Emile Nakhleh described the meeting as "a spectacle of venom, a display of vulgarity, and an unabashed nod to increased dictatorship". The session ended with the members making 22 recommendations. Only one member, MP Osama al Tamimi, voted against them. The following day, King Hamad wrote to the Prime Minister and asked for “essential speedy implementation of these recommendations”. The BBC wrote: "The recommendations if implemented in full would effectively return the country to a state of martial law."

The National Assembly in Bahrain consists of two chambers - the Council of Representatives (lower house) and the Consultative Council (upper house). Each has 40 seats. The Consultative Council is entirely appointed by the King. The Council of Representatives is an elected chamber, however it has been boycotted by opposition MPs since the 2011 crackdown. Furthermore, many largely "opposition" districts in Bahrain are subject to severe gerrymandering. One lawyer, Abdulla AlShamlawi, has claimed that the emergency session was unconstitutional, as the existing provisions only allow for the chambers to be recalled separately. He argues that "there is no constitutional provision which authorizes the invitation for the National Assembly with its two chambers."
International Human Rights NGOs were quick to condemn the recommendations. Amnesty International said that they "will lead to further violations of Bahrain’s international human rights obligations". It summarised them as follows:
The recommendations include the banning of all sit-ins, public gatherings and demonstrations in the capital Manama indefinitely, giving the security forces additional sweeping powers to “protect society from all terrorist acts and incitement to such acts”; increasing punishment for anyone propagating false information about Bahrain in social media networks; taking legal action against certain political associations which incite and support violent and terrorist acts; taking all possible measures to impose peace and security, even if it means imposing a state of national safety (state of emergency); and the imposition of harsher sentences on anyone involved in acts of “terrorism” and violence and anyone inciting others to use violence; the revocation of Bahraini nationality from anyone committing terrorist acts or incitement to such activities,

The 2006 anti-terrorism legislation, known as “Protecting Society from Terrorist Acts,” defines terrorism in an overly broad and ambiguous manner. Amnesty International has expressed concern about provisions in the law that place arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and gives the Public Prosecution excessive discretion. The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism expressed fears in 2006 that the restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in the law would allow the criminalization of peaceful demonstrations by civil society. The UN Committee against Torture expressed in 2005 concerns about the broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorist organizations and the erosion of judicial safeguards in the then draft law.
Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director Nadim Houry said:
Bahrain has spent the last two years cracking down on peaceful protest, violating people’s rights from start to finish. ow it’s planning a whole new set of draconian restrictions, effectively creating a new state of emergency, even while peaceful protesters from the last round are sitting in prison with long sentences.

The parallels with the 2011 protests and the government’s heavy-handed response then are of the utmost concern. Clamping down further on people who have legitimate grievances will only fuel discontent and escalate an already tense situation.

The government has talked a lot about the need for national reconciliation but, once again, its actions in taking on a raft of stern new measures to suppress legitimate protest are undermining any prospects for successful dialogue.

Further reading:

Bahrain News Agency: Recommendations of the Extraordinary Session of the National Assembly

Bahrain Center for Human Rights: Escalation of the Crackdown against Freedom of Expression and Assembly in the Recommendations of the National Assembly Special Session

Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights: Extensive Powers to the Executive Authority against the Opposition

Human Rights Watch: Parliament Moves to Curtail Basic Rights

Amnesty International: New anti-terrorism powers would pose further risk to human rights

BBC: Bahrain Assembly calls for tough action as violence builds

Emile Nakhleh: Bahrain Declares War on the Opposition

No comments: