Bahrain: New decrees ban dissent as further protests organized

Two new emergency decrees issued by the King of Bahrain last night, which include the banning of all protests, are a further shameful attempt to completely ban any form of dissent and freedom of expression in the country, Amnesty International said.

“Banning sit-ins, public gatherings and demonstrations in Bahrain’s capital and stipulating that parents could be jailed if their children repeatedly participate in demonstrations is outrageous, and violates international law,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“Authorities in Bahrain have, for years, abused existing legislation to suppress any form of dissent, but these new measures are taking their disregard for human rights to a completely new level. We fear that these draconian measures will be used in an attempt to legitimize state violence as new protests are being planned for 14 August.”

One of the decrees makes new amendments to the 1973 Law on public gatherings and demonstrations, which include the banning of demonstrations, sit-ins, marches and public gatherings in the capital Manama.

The 1976 juvenile law was also amended and now stipulates that, if anyone under 16 years of age takes part in a demonstration, public gathering or sit-in, his or her parents would be warned in writing by the Ministry of Interior. If six months after the warning the juvenile was found in a new demonstration, his or her father could face jail, a fine or both.

The decrees are the latest in a series of measures by the Bahraini authorities to toughen punishments laid out in the 2006 anti-terrorism law, stifling dissent in the wake of increased protests.

In recent weeks, the security forces have used shot-guns and tear gas against protesters and conducted mass arrests of protesters. Amnesty International has also received reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detained protesters.

In the early hours of 29 July at least 27 people, mostly youth, were arrested in the village of Dar Kulaib in west Bahrain, where clashes between security forces and protesters had taken place. Bloggers, photographers and others active in social media networks have been targeted for arrest in recent days.

Despite these measures, sporadic protests have continued with a new mass demonstration planned for 14 August.

“Banning protests and using unnecessary and excessive force against protesters will risk leading to further violent clashes. Instead, the authorities in Bahrain should focus on ensuring people across the country can exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Philip Luther.

The 2006 anti-terrorism legislation, known as “Protecting Society from Terrorist Acts”, defines terrorism in an overly broad and ambiguous manner.

Amnesty International said some of the provisions in the law place arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and gives the Public Prosecution excessive discretion.

Since February 2011 when large anti-government protests began in Bahrain the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated sharply. Scores of opposition activists have been arrested and tried before military courts.

Many were tortured. Some, including 13 prominent figures, are serving lengthy sentences of up to life. Dozens of people died, including from torture, but mainly as a result of unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces during protests. Human rights activists have been jailed for their work.