National Assembly Sanctions Violence

Overview of the past 2 weeks in Bahrain. Originally published in our weekly newsletter, that you can sign up to here.

Introduction

The situation in Bahrain has been escalating quickly over the past few weeks, with what appears to be a renewed and heavy crackdown from the regime against democracy protests. An extraordinary session of Bahrain’s National Assembly, made 22 recommendations in order to deal with a growing “terror” threat that granted stronger powers to deal with protests. It followed a car bombing in Riffa that left no injuries and no group has claimed responsibility for, but has been used as the justification for the renewed crackdown. Many feel the real motive for the repression is an attempt to stop the protests planned for August 14th, that have been made inspired by Egypt. At the same time, it shows the regime hardliners to be firmly in control, when talk of some kind of agreement between reformists in the ruling family and the moderate opposition has been heard.

Political Situation

Sessions of the National Consensus Dialogue concluded for a 2-month break before the start of Ramadhan, with nothing decided and without any progress having been made.

Rather than using the period for all sides to collect their thoughts and think of ways to bring a solution back to the table, the authorities have embarked on a major crackdown, changing laws to justify their actions.

An extraordinary session National Assembly put forward 22 recommendations that include banning all protests in Manama, and a series of harsh punishments to deal with suspects in cases of “terrorism”. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights have previously reported on the trouble with the vague anti-terrorism laws in Bahrain, which have often be used to target any in the opposition. Much of the rhetoric from officials over the past 2 years has been to characterise the opposition as terrorists.

The pretext for the new laws was a suspected bombing outside of a Mosque in Riffa, not far from royal residences. No one was injured in the car explosion, and opposition societies immediately condemned all forms of violence. There was, however, scepticism surrounding the nature of the bombing with many arguing that statements from the Ministry of Interior could not be trusted, as proven by the BICI report.

The National Assembly meeting itself was accused of being “dangerous and provocative”, with Shiites reportedly being described as “dogs”. The King quickly moved to promise full implementation of the recommendations, whilst a spokesperson described them as being permanent and not temporary measures.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has reported on the session in full, describing the National Assembly as a “tool of repression.” International NGO’s have also condemned the new measures including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The BBC wrote: “The recommendations if implemented in full would effectively return the country to a state of martial law.”

Whilst 5 months of dialogue was unable to come to any agreement, an afternoon session of the National Assembly was able to immediately begin the process to change laws, which are already being implemented on the ground. This leaves any political solution hanging by a thread, with the country further away from positive reform than it ever has been in more than 2 years of popular protest.

For many this is a set back from recent talk of a possible roadmap from Bahrain’s Crown Prince, who visited the US and UK to promote his solution. When dialogue resumes in September, the political scene will be very different to how it was before the break.

Prior to the National Assembly, opposition societies released their vision of a political solution, and following the session made 24 recommendations of their own. Sheikh Ali Salman, Al Wefaq Secretary General commented, “Bahrain is a homeland for all.” Adding, “This patriotic concept needs to be built on unquestionable human rights and legal foundations. We mean justice, equality, the people as the source of all powers and excluding all forms of degradation of human dignity and human rights in Bahrain”.

Bahrain Watch have reported the following:

On July 31st, King Hamad issued two new royal decrees, bringing into legislation even harsher sentences and punishments, including the revocation of citizenship as a penalty for a range of offences. The decrees amended the 2006 law on the “Protection of the Community Against Terrorist Acts” in the following ways:
·       Article 10 was amended to increase the minimum punishment to 10 years for “whomever carries out a bombing or attempts to carry out a bombing for terrorism purposes”. If “the bombing/explosion resulted in a death or injury” the punishment will be “execution or life imprisonment”.
·       Article 10 was also amended to make fake bombs illegal. It now reads: “Imprisonment shall be the punishment of whoever puts or carries in public or private places for the same reason prototypes or models that look like or resemble explosives or firecrackers.”
·       Article 24 was amended to vastly expand the revocation of citizenship as a punishment for certain offences. This now makes it possible for authorities to render stateless anyone accused of:
1.    “each one who runs an organization, society, institution or association established according to the law and exploits his management thereof to advocate the commission of any of the crimes provided for in this Law” (Article 9)
2.    “everyone who solicits any society, association, organization, group or gang that carries out a terrorist activity […] or communicates therewith or with any person who acts to serve the interest of any such groups” (Article 12)
3.    “everyone who incites another to commit a crime for the implementation of a terrorist objective even though his acts shall be of no effect” (Article 17)

The 1956 law on charity fundraising was also amended to give the public prosecution power to order to “view and obtain any data or information of accounts, deposits, or safes with banks or other [entities] to reveal the truth of crimes stated in this law.” The law was also amended to make any fundraising by organisations subject to authorization by the relevant government ministry at least two months prior to the activity. The “request should include the way, period, place and purpose of the fundraising”. Government bodies are exempt from these new amendments.

Also on July 31st, the Ministry of State for Communication Affairs announced that it had begun implementing the National Assembly recommendations. Bahrain state media reported that the Ministry intended “to enforce legal procedures against anyone who misuses social networking systems and tampers with Bahrain’s security and stability”. The Ministry also announced the creation of a hotline, “for the people in Bahrain to report any websites or accounts inciting violence and terror acts, jeopardising people’s life and public interests and targeting national unity and civic peace”. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) stated, “it appears that the Ministry is merely calling for another ‘name and shame’ campaign similar to the one started in 2011 which targeted pro-democracy activists.“ The Ministry’s announcement came on the same day that Bahrain Watch released an extensive report documenting the “Twitter army” that has been unleashed to silence online dissent.

Repression

Both before and after the National Assembly session, there has been a clear escalation in the level of repression taking place across Bahrain. Following the Riffa bomb incident a week of house raids, arrests and collective punishment took place, as reported by BJDM here.

Al Wefaq documented: 25 arrests, including 3 children – 98 house raids – More than 150 cases of collective punishment – 67 reported injuries – 4 serious – 5 private properties vandalised – 2 mosques attacked with fire – 3 mosques tear gassed – 1 mosque vandalised. Meanwhile BCHR documented a large number of violations in the same period.

Following the National Assembly session, the level of violations has continued to increase, with stronger repression now sanctioned in law. House raids continued throughout August 1st, including raids in Aali, ShahrakkanSaddad and Buri.

Arrests

Arrests have continued of youth activists in house raids, whilst a number of high profile activists have also been detained. Bahrain Watch report:

Security forces began a harsh crackdown almost immediately following the meeting of the National Assembly, with renewed house raids and arrests. These arrests included prominent activists. At around 3am on July 31st, masked men arrested blogger and fixer Mohamed Hassan from his home. They searched the house and seized all his electronic devices. Later that night, photojournalist Hussain Hubail, a close friend of Mohamed, was arrested from Bahrain airport. Mohamed had been expected to appear before the public prosecutor on August 1st to learn the charges against him. However, there is no confirmation that this has happened. BCHR consider him subject to “enforced disappearance”. Hussain’s whereabouts are currently unknown. His brother contacted CID yesterday, but they “denied having him”

Injuries

A large number of injuries have been reported throughout the last few days, from a variety of tear gas and birdshot gun pellets. The following pictures are a few examples:

Other violations

The home of Sheikh Ali Salman was targeted on 30th July, by masked men who attacked CCTV cameras outside of his home. A statement from the Ministry of Interior justified the attack by claiming that they were removed as they “could have been used to monitor the movement of police patrols in order to target them with violence.“

On 28th July, Al Wefaq reported on the raiding of the home of Fadhel Al Obeidi, who died in March 2012 as a result of being shot at in the head by Police. Police were looking to arrest Fadhel, despite him having died more than a year earlier.

Human rights defender Naji Fateel who was arrested in May has yet to be released. Photographs demonstrate that he was tortured whilst in detention. He is currently being charged under the terrorism act. Front Line Defenders attended a recent court session and determined that the trial “falls short of international standards”.

On 7th July a video was posted to YouTube showing Khalifa Bin Salman, Bahrain’s Prime Minister, telling a Policeman recently acquitted of murder that he is above the law. Translated, he tells the officer, “These laws cannot be applied to you. No one can touch this bond. Whoever applies these laws against you is applying them against us. We are one body.”

On 24th June Bahrain’s appeal court acquitted a female police officer on charges of torturing the journalist Nazeeha Saeed. Reporters without borders said, ““The appeal court’s decision to confirm the police officer’s acquittal clearly shows the lack of independence of the Bahraini judicial system and the duplicitous nature of the government’s concern for its image in the eyes of the international community.”

On 11th July a female detainee testified in court that she had recently been stripped in order to gain a false confession. Rayhana Almusawi was detained during the 2013 Formula 1 race, allegedly for attempting to carry out a dummy run of a bombing in the racetrack.

August 14th Protests

As previously mentioned, mass protests are expected across Bahrain on August 14th.  Coinciding with Bahrain’s independence day and inspired by the Tamarrod protest movement in Egypt, thousands are expected to take to the streets. Much of the recent repression has been in order to take preventative measures against this action. BJDM is working with others to provide full coverage of this event and will be informing soon of a site collating all information, and running a live-blog, relating to August 14th.

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