In a move marking a significant step back on the path to democratic reforms, on 5 January 2017 Bahraini authorities issued Royal Decree 1/2017 granting the National Security Agency (NSA) judicial powers to arrest and detain civilians “involved in terror crimes.” The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is highly concerned about the decision to restore law enforcement ability to Bahrain’s domestic intelligence agency.
Created in 2002, the NSA first gained arrest powers in 2008 through another royal decree. The 2011 wave of pro-democracy protests throughout the country and the brutal suppression that followed witnessed NSA officials arresting protesters and subjecting them to interrogations and torture. As a result, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) issued recommendation 1718, requiring the Bahraini government to strip the NSA of law enforcement powers and limit its role to information gathering only. The main responsibility of the NSA, according to BICI’s recommendation, should have been to provide intelligence to the Ministry of Interior, the sole national agency with the jurisdiction to take legal action over arrests and detentions.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of the BICI recommendations have been either only partially implemented or not implemented at all, recommendation 1718 was one of the very few to be fully implemented, at least on paper, thus marking a key gain in terms of the safeguard of fundamental human rights.
Based on Decree 1/2017, the judicial power to arrest and detain will be restricted to so-called “terror crimes” only. Nevertheless, Bahraini authorities have largely used the highly expansive and vague anti-terror legislation against human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and protesters, and will likely take advantage of this new law to further strengthen the crackdown on dissent.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights strongly condemns the alarming expansion of police powers, allowing even more space for the abuse of human rights in the country, and asks the government of Bahrain to:
- immediately reverse the decision backing Decree 1/2017;
- end the persecution and harassment of human rights defenders, civil society and the opposition; and
- fully implement all BICI recommendations.