Bahrain crisis: All repression, no toleration make things worse

Alwaght – The West-backed regime’s pressures begin to build on the people in Bahrain as the country draws closer to February, the month of marking the seventh anniversary of the 2011 popular revolution against the Al Khalifa monarchy that keeps unfolding to date. The uprising took place in the Persian Gulf island kingdom, which has a small size and population. A major part of its southern territory is desert and only the island’s northern parts are populated. Of the 82 percent of the Muslim population of Bahrain, 70 percent are Shiites.

With regard to the density of the population in the north, the smallest and most sporadic protests can soon snowball into huge anti-regime rallies. From the outset, the Bahraini authorities sought long-term approaches to maintain rapid whirlwind of protests once they sparked. Al Khalifa resorted to many tricks including stripping the citizenship of the protestors. Military courts is another way to silence the dissent wave. In early April last year, the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa approved military trials of the civilians, a move that paved the way for the quicker muzzling of the opposing voices.

Reports published by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights have suggested that in 2016 the regime arrested over 1,300 civilians, all of whom, the center added, were peaceful protestors and posed no danger to the security of the tiny island. The report maintained that a majority of the arrestees were family members of victims of the anti-regime demonstrations.

Al Khalifa regime fears that family members of political prisoners go out in the society and find popularity nationwide. To justify its crackdown, the regime in 2016 introduced some constitutional reforms, with the aim of withholding the opposition figures’ citizenship. Revoking of the citizenship is stripping a national of his or her legal rights and exposing him or her to the ensuing legal actions like imprisonment, house arrest, travel ban, and other restrictive measures.

The state’s parliament, a largely ceremonial and hand-picked legislative body without power to challenge the ruling elite, in March 2017 introduced some amendments to the Article 105 of the island nation’s constitution to allow the civilians to be put to the military trials. The older version of the revised article does not give civilian trials jurisdiction to the military courts.

“The law regulates the military judiciary and shows its competencies with regard to the Bahrain Defense Force, the National Guard and the Public Security Forces,” the older version read.

So, the new law gave the military judiciary vast powers, enabling them to directly investigate the civilian suspects and at the same time try them if necessary without the need for a permit from the civilian judicial authority. Using the amendment apparently as an umbrella for its anti-opposition clampdown, the Bahraini regime claims that the changes came to fit fight against terrorism at home. On the heels of the constitutional revisions, the security forces detained 20 people, among them opposition figures.

In December last year, a military court sentenced 6 civilians to death on charges of terror actions. According to the international reports emanating from the island nation, the country’s human rights cases have set a new record in 2017. The country’s human rights organization has repeatedly risen its voice in opposition to the anti-civilian violations of the regime. Julie Gromellon, the head of the International Relations at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, in her recent report called on the regime to stop military trials of the civilians.

Many of the detainees were in fact kidnapped by the security forces and were tried while in critical health conditions and suffering from infirmity and the torture-caused weakness. Lacking very basic legal rights, the detainees were denied lawyers, as well as the right to defend against the charges and protest against tortures. The records of the suspects are not given publicity and remain shrouded in mystery. The fresh report by the BCHR cities all of these mistreatments as the blatant infringement of the civilians’ rights by the authorities.

Revoking Citizenship and military court trials: flagrant violation of international law

The most significant international document on the statelessness is a United Nations convention passed in 1961, formally known as Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The most related items are the articles 8 and 9. Article 8: (1) A contracting state shall not deprive a person of its nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless. Article 9: A contracting state may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds. The Article 9 can be deemed a compliment to the items 1 and 2 of the Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 15: Right to nationality. (1): Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2): No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

With regard to these internationally-recognized basic rights, the Bahraini regime’s revoking of the nationality of its own nationals is a violation of the international law. The anxiety of the regime over the demonstrations pushes it to strip the citizens of a basic right to be a national, an arrangement staining its international prestige.

International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

The Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, adopted on December 19, 1966, asserts: “All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

The principle 5 of the Basic Principles on Independence of the Judiciary, adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of the Offenders held in 1985, reads: “Everyone shall have the right to be tried by ordinary courts or tribunals using established legal procedures. Tribunals that do not use the duly established procedures of the legal process shall not be created to displace the jurisdiction belonging to the ordinary courts or judicial tribunals.”

Need for approach shift 

The Al Khalifa regime regularly breaks the international law in dealing with the opposition, and day by day goes under more strains. Many non-governmental organizations provide reports on a regular basis of the regime’s abuses.

From an economic perspective, the political tensions, the economists suggest, have so far cost the state’s economy over $2 billion. A statement issued by the Transparency International has argued that since 2011, Bahrain witnessed resounding growth of corruption rates. So far, the organization added, 30 percent of the state’s national seven-year budgets were spent on the security crackdown. Escalation also forced the foreign investments and capital out of Bahrain, the international figures maintain. The country now counts the costs of damages to the tourism sector, which negatively affect the overall economic standards. A considerable part of Bahrain’s revenues come from tourism and banking sectors. Black records of the human rights emanating from the tiny monarchy to the world have been harmful to the tourist and capital arrivals. The Standard and Poor’s rating agency in 2016 decided that Bahrain’s Central Bank is among the world’s worst-performing banks. The country also was lowered 17 points in the world’s political freedoms list report to become among the worst states.

Certainly, Bahrain needs deep-rooted political reforms for a recovery from the current wretched conditions. Opening up the political stage for other groups and allowing them to participate in the power structure is the remedy. Otherwise, ongoing repressive actions, backed by Saudi Arabia, the US, and the UK, only bear the reverse and impose more costs on the country, something apparently reflected itself in the past years of brutal repression.