(Beirut) – The Bahrain parliament’s call at an extraordinary meeting on July 28, 2013, to impose a series of emergency measures will severely restrict basic rights. The action would give the authorities excessive powers to act arbitrarily to restrict such rights as freedom of assembly and speech.
Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdulla al-Khalifa said the meeting was convened “to toughen legal penalties with respect to the protection of community from terrorism acts.” On July 29, King Hamad instructed the prime minister to codify the recommendations into law as soon as possible. Antigovernment groups told Human Rights Watch that the government is exaggerating the threat of terrorist activity to justify a renewed crackdown in advance of protest demonstrations set for August 14.
“Bahrain has spent the last two years cracking down on peaceful protest, violating people’s rights from start to finish,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “Now it’s planning a whole new set of draconian restrictions, effectively creating a new state of emergency, even while peaceful protesters from the last round are sitting in prison with long sentences.”
The parliament specifically set out 22 recommendations calling for new restrictions on freedom of expression, and an indefinite ban on all public gatherings in the capital, Manama. It also called for the authorities to revoke the citizenship of Bahrainis who have been convicted of terrorist offenses, and proposed declaring a “state of national safety” in order “to impose civic security and peace.”
Bahrain’s government previously declared a National Safety Law on March 15, 2011, one month after large scale antigovernment protests began on February 14. The emergency law provided for the institution of national safety courts, which Human Rights Watch found repeatedly failed to respect and protect basic fair trial rights. The National Safety Law also granted wide ranging authority to the commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defense Force to issue regulations governing all manner of conduct and to enforce those regulations as well as existing laws. The emergency law ended on June 1, 2011.
The parliament’s “Recommendation 2” called for the authorities to revoke the citizenship “of those who carry out terrorist crimes and their instigators,” raising the prospect that Bahrainis opposed to the government will be arbitrarily deprived of their citizenship rights after unfair trials on terrorism charges.
The parliament’s recommendations, when codified into law, will suspend the right to free assembly indefinitely in Manama and may severely curtail free speech. “Recommendation 6” calls for the prohibition of all “sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings in the capital, Manama.” “Recommendation 16,” although vaguely worded, says that government measures should affect “basic liberties, particularly freedom of opinion,