Bahrain's new crackdown on dissent

Bahrain has announced wide-ranging new “security” measures which the prime minister says will give the authorities more power to “combat the scourge of terror and maintain security and stability”.

Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah, who is an uncle of the king and has served as prime minister for 42 years, claims the move is “in tune with the wishes of the people” though it is widely viewed as an attempt to crack down further on political dissent.

Laws or decrees will be issued to implement the following 22 recommendations from a special meeting of the National Assembly:

1. Issuance of Decree Laws during parliament's summer recess in order to toughen penalties in the terrorism law and, if necessary, to implement such recommendations, in order to face any event requiring expediting the adoption of measures that brook no delay, and need swift actions to protect national security and stability, in line with Article 38 of the Kingdom’s Constitution.

2. Revoking the citizenship of those who carry out terrorist crimes and their instigators.

3. Inflicting tough penalties on those who incite all forms of violence and terrorism.

4. Inflicting severe punishment on all kinds and forms of violence and terror crimes.

5. Drying up all sources of terrorist financing.

6. Banning sit-ins, rallies and gatherings in the capital Manama.

7. Taking all necessary measures, including the declaration of the State of National Safety, to impose civic security and peace whenever law is violated, the security of the citizens is compromised and private and public property is under threat.

8. Taking legal actions against some political associations which incite and support acts of violence and terrorism.

9. Amending Law 58 of 2006 with respect to protection of the community of against terrorist acts so as to inflict punishment on those who instigate and support terrorism.

10. Granting the security bodies all required and appropriate powers to protect society from terror incidents and prevent spreading them.

11. Requesting Ambassadors to Bahrain not to interfere in the kingdom’s domestic affairs, in line with International Law and regulations.

12. Toughening penalties on those who involve children and exploit them in acts of terrorism and vandalism of private or public facilities.

13. Total commitment to applying all punitive laws related to combating violence and terrorism.

14. Adherence to a balanced moderate discourse in order to preserve the social fabric of the Bahraini society.

15. Direct relevant state bodies to activate the necessary legal action against those who use social networks in an illegal way, and toughening penalties against those who use those networks to disseminate false information to foreign sides which plot against the country’s security and stability.

16. Basic liberties, particularly freedom of opinion, should be affected so as to strike a balance between law enforcement and human rights protection.

17. Examination of the educational policies of the kingdom and review and change educational curricular in a way that protects society from violence and terrorist actions and improves the behavior of students.

18. Using the media to shed light on the dangers of terrorism and its negative impacts on national stability and economy.

19. Backing the loyal efforts of HM the King to encourage national dialogue and push it forward, as serious national dialogue is the best means to resolve all issues and maintain national cohesion.

20. Those involved in terrorist acts shall not be covered by Royal pardon on crimes.

21. Devising an integrated national security strategy in order to be able to face all developments and supporting the efforts of those in charge of it and ensuring their protection.

22. Launching programmes to rehabilitate youths who were exploited in various crimes.

The move is being presented as a response to increasing violence on the streets. Last month a policeman was killed by an improvised explosive device and several more were injured by Molotov cocktails. The home of a prominent MP, Abbas al-Madhi also came under attack from petrol bombs.

However, Reuters points out that there have been calls for mass demonstrations on August 14 – Bahrain’s independence day – and the regime has threatened that anyone taking part will face the "force of the law". This may explain why the new measures are being rushed through now.

Human rights organisations have been swift to condemn the crackdown. 

Human Rights Watch says the measures are “neither appropriate nor proportionate, particularly as they would appear to virtually end any opportunity to exercise the right to peaceful assembly”. Recent history, it says, suggests this “will open the way for a new government crackdown in which citizens who oppose the government will face severe penalties for exercising their rights to free assembly and expression”.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights views the move as an attempt by the authorities “to legalise human rights violations” and says that terrorism charges against dissenters have been “the go-to accusation of the authorities in Bahrain”.

Human Rights First says the measures “show contempt for the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which urged substantive and much-needed reforms”. It adds:

“The upcoming US State Department’s report on the implementation of the BICI recommendations, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is likely to confirm that the Bahraini government has essentially ignored the report.

“There is mounting anxiety in Washington that the Bahrain regime’s failure to introduce real human rights reform threatens the country’s stability and its ability to be a reliable host for the US Fifth Fleet ...”

Meanwhile, there are reports that Mohammed Hassan, a blogger who often worked as an assistant for visiting foreign journalists, 
was arrested early on Wednesday when police raided his home in Sitra. A computer and telephone are said to have been seized.

The reason for his arrest is unclear. He closed down his blog and stopped using his Twitter account on April 29.