7-31-2013By Diana Sayed
Human Rights Defenders
The Bahraini National Assembly is considering toughening punishment for those who commit “terrorist acts.” The stated purpose is to protect national security. The real purpose is to intensify its crackdown on pro-democracy activists ahead of the August 14th protests, which are inspired by the “Tamarod” (Rebel!) protests that forced out Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
On Sunday, the Assembly made twenty-two recommendations following a three-hour session in which members expressed support for further eroding the basic rights of assembly and freedom of expression, The recommendations call for a general “toughening of sentences on all violent and terrorist crimes in all shapes and forms,” but don’t elaborate on this.
The proposed penalties include stripping citizenship, declaring a state of emergency, and banning all protests. The Assembly also endorsed “necessary” legal procedures against those who use social media in an “illegal way” and tougher penalties for those who use these sites “to promote false information to foreign sides.” Although these tactics are hardly new for the Bahraini regime, they will be used to further target activists who use social media to expose human rights violations.
The King’s endorsement of speedy implementation of these recommendations clears the way for enactment. The Crown Prince and the Prime Minister both publicly endorsed the recommendations.
The actions of the National Assembly show contempt for the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which urged substantive and much-needed reforms. The upcoming U.S. State Department’s report on the implementation of the BICI recommendations, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is likely to confirm that the Bahraini government has essentially ignored the report.
There is mounting anxiety in Washington that the Bahrain regime’s failure to introduce real human rights reform threatens the country’s stability and its ability to be a reliable host for the U.S. Fifth Fleet. U.S. officials need to do more than express “concern” about the deteriorating situation in Bahrain. They should apply pressure to ensure that these recommendations don’t become law.