Bahrain Constitutional Amendment Suppresses Freedom of Dissent

On April 3, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain ratified a constitutional amendment that will allow the trial of citizens in military court, according to Amnesty International.

The Bahrain’s Council of Representatives approved the amendment on February 21, 2017, before moving on to the upper house of parliament for final approval. The military court’s area of control is used to cover offenses by security forces only.

The law states that it deals with people charged with terrorism, but falls short of defining what constitutes as terrorism, opening up doors for massive arrests.

Bahrain has seen increasing amounts of demonstrations since Bahrain’s suppression of Arab Spring protests in 2011; many of those arrested are charged with terrorism.

This amendment puts every citizen in the face of unfair trials, including peaceful activists who have been harassed by the Bahraini government previously.

The last time a military court tried civilians in Bahrain was the end result of a pro-democracy protest in 2011 – the trial took place in 2012 and was dubbed “unfair” by Human Rights Watch, and approximately 300 people were charged with political crimes.

Many activists, doctors, nurses and teachers have been sentenced to prison under “confessions” obtained with the use of torture in Bahrain.

In a 2011 report presented in Manama, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry found that Bahrain has arrested and charged hundreds in relation to their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

The report also found that Bahraini security forces killed 18 demonstrators and detainees with no valid justifications.

“Trials before military courts violate fundamental requirements of international law and standards for fair trial,” said Lynn Maalouf in a statement from Amnesty International, head of research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.

Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have opposed this amendment.

When reached for comment, Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, referred to HRW’s website where HRW’s stance is documented.

Amnesty International representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Groups loyal to the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain claim it is necessary to deter terror attacks and keep the peace.

The largest Shiite group in Bahrain — the Al-Wefaq opposition group — had been dismantled in June 2016, and news gathering is increasing in difficulty, according to the Associated Press.

A statement from the Justice and Islamic Affairs Ministry broadcast over a Bahraini state-run news agency accused the Al-Wefaq opposition group of creating “a new generation that carries the spirit of hatred.” Al-Wefaq’s lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlawi, denied all allegations in court.

“Trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal,” Human Rights Watch stated on its website.