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Bahrain: Light-Speed Amendments Made to Implement Anti-Freedoms Recommendations

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The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is gravely concerned in regards to the Bahraini authorities’ actions to legalize human rights violations and crackdown on activists and protesters in anticipation of “Bahrain Tamarod” on August 14th. The government has already rapidly escalated attacks on activists, protesters and whole villages on a daily basis in the form of around-the-clock house raids, dozens of arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, politically motivated convictions and tough prison sentences.

Bahraini authorities have taken swift and concerning steps to legalize its violations of human rights abuses and brutal crackdown on activists and protesters. On Sunday 28 July, 2013, the National Assembly held a special session during which many repressive recommendations were agreed upon to restrict freedoms of expression and assembly and issued in just 20 minutes of the ending of the session. This gave the impression that they had been previously prepared. Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa as head of the ruling family, readily accepted all recommendations and called for them to be promptly implemented (read more here http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/6263).

In less than 72 hours since the recommendations were made, actions were taken by the authorities to put these recommendations that call for a harsher crackdown on protesters into action.

On Wednesday 31 July, 2013, two royal decrees were issued to amend laws on the Protection of Society against Acts of Terror and Charity Fundraising regulations, in accordance to the national assembly’s recommendations. The amendments on laws of protection from terror acts have provisioned harsher punishment of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, the death penalty or life, or revocation of citizenship according to the Terrorism Law.  The amended laws stated that article 10 to be changed to:  “the punishment of not less than 10 years shall be provisioned to whomever carries out a bombing or attempts to carry out a bombing for terrorism purposes” and “the punishment of execution or life imprisonment if the bombing/ explosion resulted in a death or injury. 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.”

In addition, Article (24) repeated was amended to  “Repeating: In addition to the penalty prescribed of citizenship revocation of the defendants in the crimes stated in articles (5) to (9), (12) and (17) of this law” For the full text of these articles please check https://www.unodc.org/tldb/showDocument.do?documentUid=8520

Terrorism has been the go-to accusation of the authorities in Bahrain, the most recent case is of “the February 14 cell” where 50 defendants were accused of terrorism, their photos and names broadcasted on national television before they were taken to. This of course is in violation of Bahrain’s own laws, namely Article 246 which prohibits publishing a person’s picture before the final verdict and without the authorization of the public prosecution. (Read more: http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/6227). With these new amendments, human rights defender Naji Fateel is now facing the possible revocation of his citizenship in case of conviction for “establishing a terrorist group for the purpose of disturbing public security”. This is the same situation for the other defendants in the same case who are accused with the same charge or with joining the group, which fall under articles 6 and 9 of the anti-terrorism law.  These articles are also widely used against activists, and have been also used against the political opposition leaders and activists in the case of Bahrain 13, though it is not clear yet if the new amendments will be applied to their case as well. (More on http://bahrainrights.org/en/node/5405)

 

Article 6

Life imprisonment shall be the penalty for everyone who forms, establishes, organizes or operates, contrary to the provisions of the law, a society, association, organization, group, gang or a branch of any of the above or undertakes the leadership or command thereof for the purpose of calling for obstructing the enforcement of the provisions of the Construction or the laws or preventing any of the government organizations or public authorities from carrying out their activities or infringes upon the citizens personal freedom or other freedoms or public rights secured by the Constitution, the law or undermines national unity if terrorism is one of the methods used in the realization or implementation of the purposes called for by the society, association, organization, group or gang or any of their branches.

Imprisonment for a period of no less than 10 years shall be inflicted upon any person who supplies them with weapons, ammunition, explosives, supplies, machinery or information or provides them with premises, accommodation or facilities to cover up, shelter or boarding facilities or conceals or damages items, properties or weapons that may have been used or intended for use in their activities or produced therefrom while being aware of what they call for and their methods in the realization or implementation thereof.

A prison sentence for a period of no less than 5 years shall be inflicted upon anyone who joins any such societies, associations, organizations, groups or any of their branches or participants in their activities in any manner while being aware of their terrorist objectives.

Article 9

A prison sentence shall be the penalty for 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.

 

The new amendment removes the maximum of the 5 year prison sentence under article 17 for “everyone who incites another to commit a crime for the implementation of a terrorist objective even though his acts shall be of no effect.” It is important to note here that the law does not define what inciting is or put boundaries to it; therefore it is vague and can be manipulated.

While the second decree amendment updated the 1956 law of charity fundraising regulations which stated in article (30) that “the public prosecution office may give the 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 amendment also stated that all fundraising activities, except those carried out by governmental bodies, have to be authorized through permits requested from the concerned ministry at least two months prior to fundraising, “the request should include the way, period, place and purpose of the fundraising”.

On a related note, the State Minister for Communication Affairs, Fawaz bin Mohammed AlKhalifa, ordered the immediate implementation of the recommendations related to communication mediums, especially that in respect of the “misuse” of social networks. The Ministry launched a hotline and email for the public to report “any websites or accounts inciting violence and terror acts” allegedly to safeguard national unity and civil peace. However, in the absence of a precise definition of “inciting”, 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. Observers described this act as“a sanctioned witch hunt”. In the previous campaign, only activists, political dissidents and protesters were targeted for exercising freedom of expression over social networks and more than 106 months of imprisonment were collectively delivered against 12 online users since June 2012. This includes BCHR president, Nabeel Rajab, who is serving prison time for tweeting, five others who were sentenced to 1 year in prison for insulting the king on twitter[1], Jaffar AlDemistani who was abducted and detained for a few weeks for tweeting about the torture his father was subjected to[2], Mohammed Hassan a blogger whose house was raided and was arrested just recently and many other online users who are either detained or facing charges. On the other hand, there are accounts that have inciting violence since 2011 against pro-democracy people, which was documented in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry’s report (set up and paid for by the king), however, no actions were taken against them until this day. This measure is believed to be an attempt to escalate the attack on freedom of expression over social media in an attempt to further silence people.

The unelected prime minister of 43 years, Khalifa Bin Salman AlKhalifa, hailed the national assembly and confirmed that the government has to rapidly start the implementation of the recommendations and added that “Anyone in government who cannot achieve these recommendations {to become} reality, we will tell him thank you, as there are many of the youth of this county who are aspiring to this[3].

Maryam Al-Khawaja, Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, commented:

“With the authorities going to such lengths to escalate the crackdown prior to the Tamarod protests on August 14th, we call on all relevant human rights NGO’s, institutions and allies of the Government of Bahrain to step up the pressure to stop the ongoing and further anticipated crackdown. We also call for allowing international observers to enter Bahrain during that period for monitoring and reporting purposes, whether NGO staff and/or journalists.  This is an opportunity for the allies of Bahrain, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, to hold their allies to the same standards they hold their non-allies to, for once. This is also a good time to remind the authorities in Bahrain of their responsibility towards the right to free expression and assembly.”

The government, headed by Hamad Bin Isa, Salman Bin Hamad and Khalifa Bin Salman, has presented a united front in this escalated campaign of violations against freedoms and in demanding that the recommendations be executed immediately. This comes at a time when, after almost two years of the BICI recommendations, and more than a year after the recommendations of Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, they continue to fail in implementing them.

The BCHR also calls upon the United States, the United Kingdom and all other allies to put pressure on the Government of Bahrain to:

  1. Amend all laws so that they are in accordance to international standards and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  2. Immediately end the crackdown against those who practice their right to free expression and assembly.
  3. Allow people to assemble and protest according to the UDHR on the 14th of August.
  4. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.
  5. Immediately start the implementation of all BICI and UPR recommendations.
  6. Hold all those responsible for human rights violations, especially in high positions in government, accountable.
  7. Allow access to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs to Bahrain for monitoring and documentation purposes.

 

 

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