Are Bahrain’s police being given more scope for violence and impunity?

Any joy to be taken in the fact the Bahrain-Saudi Union has floundered will undoubtedly be short lived. Indeed, the Bahrain press have been keen to stress that a union it is still on-track, and that it will be fully endorsed when the GCC next meet in Manama in December this year. It has also been used as an opportunity for some good old Iran bashing, and both Saudi and Bahrain have ‘condemned’ a letter signed by Iranian MPs that reportedly stated

“Bahraini and Saudi rulers must understand that this unwise decision will only strengthen the Bahraini people’s resolve against the forces of occupation….the crisis in Bahrain will be transferred to Saudi Arabia and will push the region towards insecurity”

Not one’s to overreact, the Bahrain News Agency were quick to retort, stating

These Statements represent a flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom, and gross violation of its sovereignty and independence, which constitute a completely unacceptable conduct, altogether in form and content.

They also added that such ‘unconstructive statements are detrimental to the principles of good neighbourliness’. Clearly Iran are fools for not realizing that plans to establish a GCC union are all done on the principle of good neighbourliness! On the other hand,  Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa is also doing its part to ‘push the region towards insecurity’.

So as both the ‘GCC’ and Iran engage in acts of mutual antagonism and condemnation, citizens, ordinary Bahrainis continue to suffer. Indeed, the past few weeks have seen a number of incidents that further make a mockery of Bahrain’s supposed reforms. Insidious changes are taking place that seek to penalise both dissent and freedom of speech. This was keenly demonstrated by the arrest of  Human Rights activist Nabeel Rajab for inciting violence on social media. Such a flagrant attack on freedom of expression preceded the announcement that Bahrain would once again be tackling those who use the internet to tarnish the country’s reputation. These changes all came after Saddam Hussein fan and disseminator of sectarian propaganda Sameera Rajab was appointed as Minister of State for Information Affairs.

Perhaps more worryingly is today’s announcement that ‘manslaughter’ charges would be relaxed. The GDN reported the following.

MPs yesterday relaxed punishments for anyone convicted of manslaughter in Bahrain – making a U-turn to tougher punishments they initially approved last month. They approved amendments to the Penal Code that could result in up to three years in jail for those found guilty or an undisclosed fine, to whatever the judge determines more suitable….If manslaughter was the result of misjudgment during duty, unintentional use of authority or failure to help someone fighting for his life, the minimum sentence would be a year in jail.

Although this law seems to be applicable to ‘everyone’, I doubt this is the case. It seems to focus on manslaughter as a result of ‘misjudgement during duty or the unintentional use of authority’. To me, that language is directed at the police. An argument could be made that ‘duty’ also refers to doctors, though given Bahrain’s treatment of medical staff I would say that is unlikely. Furthermore, the Daily Tribune reported yesterday that the Shura Council had approved a draft amendment to article No. 221 of the Penal Code. Under this amendment;

A minimum seven-year sentence will be awarded to those who unintentionally cause permanent disability by assaulting a security officer….The amendment approves a life imprisonment punishment for an assault that causes death without having the intention to cause it.

So if a policemen accidentally kills someone in the line of duty, he can look at a maximum prison sentence of three years, whereas if someone accidentally kills a policeman, they can receive life imprisonment. Not only that, but unintentionally causing permanent disability to a policemen comes with a mimum seven-year prison sentence. Therefore the minimum sentence for unintentionally injuring a policemen is greater than the maximum sentence for when a policemen unitentionally kills a civilian.

If the above is true, and not the result of sloppy reporting , then there is serious cause for concern. Without a political solution to address the underlying causes of violence, such changes to the penal cold will only further punish civilians whilst absolving the violations perpetrated by security forces. As yet, no security officers have actually been convicted of abuses related to last year’s unrest. One female officer was fined BD 400 for assaulting France 24 journalist Naziha Saeed, yet the case was transferred to civilian courts  after Ms. Saeed’s lawyer complained to the Public Prosecution. Furthermore, of the 50 policemen being investigated for their role in carrying out human rights abuses related to last year’s unrest, only 11 are having their cases pursued. Of these 11, six are Pakistani and Yemeni. In other words, only 4 low ranking Bahraini officers are facing charges following last year’s unrest (Amnesty International, 2012).

These changes to the penal code illustrate the regime’s continued reliance on rule by law instead of rule of law. The fact that they come at the same time as talk of a Gulf Union simply highlight the fact that any significant political reform is unlikely. Instead the regime are digging in and giving themselves more license to violently repress continued anticipated unrest. What happens at the next GCC summit in December is in many ways irrelevant, especially from a security perspective. Let’s not forget that Saudi troops entered Bahrain before this new talk of ‘ collective security among the GCC’. Indeed, the marriage between Bahrain and Saudi was consummated long before the wedding.  Reactionary talk of a GCC union is merely a continuation of the ‘need for security’ rhetoric emanating from the likes of the PM, and a way of reassuring loyalists.

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One comment

  1. […] While these new laws essentially raise the cost of engaging in protest, they also mask the fact that other laws are being drafted that may give the police more license to act with impunity. On May16th I blogged about how those who committed manslaughter ‘ in the line of duty’ would faced relaxed sentencing. Read the blog here […]

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