3 April 2017 – Bahraini military courts may now try civilians, under a constitutional amendment passed into law today by the King of Bahrain.
The amendment was rubber-stamped by the elected and royally-appointed houses of the legislature in quick succession in February and March. The amendment was first put forward by an explanatory memo (see Editor’s Note) circulated in Bahrain’s government on 2 February: the constitutional amendment is thus passing into law just two months after it was first suggested.
Article 105(b) of Bahrain’s 2002 Constitution states “The jurisdiction of military courts shall be confined to military offences committed by members of the Defence Force, the National Guard, and the Security Forces. It does not extend to other persons except when martial law is declared and within the bounds prescribed by law.”
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy: “The King of Bahrain has personally approved a dictatorial new law. He is directly responsible for the fair trial abuses which will surely follow will. Bahrain dubs any and all peaceful protesters as terrorists and will use these courts against them. This law is precisely why Post-Brexit Britain and the Trump Administration are wrong to court Bahrain and its allies.”
The new amendment will replace that text with the following: “The law regulates the military judiciary and shows its competencies with regards to Bahrain Defense Force, the National Guard and the Public Security Forces.” This will allow the military courts to prosecute anyone facing charges related to these institutions.
A Bahraini legal expert told the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy “it is a new martial law”. The amendment is set to remove limitations on Bahrain’s martial courts in the current Constitution and freeing them to prosecute civilians. It has been fast-tracked through government, with a special session of the legislature held on 5 February, days after the amendment was circulated in a memo.
Rather than trying offences committed by members of the armed and public security forces (the police), with strict limitations on its use against civilians, the new amendment opens the military court system to be used to protect the military by prosecuting outsiders.
Husain Abdulla, Executive Director, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain: “Bahrain’s government claims this won’t be used against civilians, but that’s entirely unconvincing. If they aren’t going to try civilians with military courts, then why have they amended the constitution to remove all protections in place for civilians? In a year where the new Trump administration has lifted conditions on its sale of F-16s to Bahrain, this is a dangerous sign of things to come.”
This is the latest troubling legislation since the new year. In January, the King re-instated the National Security Agency with powers of arrest. The NSA was involved in systematic torture in 2011, resulting in the death of at least one detainee in their custody, businessman Karim Al-Fakhrawi.