Terrorism suspects to be tried in Bahraini military courts

Sunday 09/04/2017
‘Large’ differences. Bahraini lawmakers participate in a special session of parliament in Manama. (AP)

London - Bahrain, under the direc­tives of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and with the unanimous approval of parliament, will try ter­ror suspects in military courts in reaction to perceived threats from Iran.

King Hamad ratified an amend­ment to the Bahraini constitution that allows military courts to hear trials of civilian terror suspects or any individual who attacks the Gulf state’s “Defence Force, National Guard or the Public Security Forc­es”, an official statement carried by the Bahrain News Agency said.

The amendment is intended to address the security situation in Bahrain, particularly as it pertains to its security apparatus and threats from international and domestic terrorism.

Bahraini Justice Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa said the military courts would have the au­thority to try “those who engage in terrorist acts and violent crimes” because such acts were considered armed assaults.

He said Bahrain would battle “terrorist armed groups and mi­litias supported by countries and organisations [that] target innocent people and property”. He added such circumstances “should be ad­dressed by developing legislative and laws to stop their threats to peace and security”.

The developments coincided with Bahrain’s Court of Cassation reducing the prison sentence of op­position leader Sheikh Ali Salman from nine to four years. The ap­peals court ruled Salman not guilty of calling for a forceful uprising against the government. Charges of inciting hatred and slander, how­ever, remained.

Bahraini authorities blame un­rest on interference by Iran, a notion shared by fellow Gulf Co­operation Council (GCC) mem­bers. The GCC views Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, as the root cause of the instability re­gionally, pointing to situations in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Bahrain.

Activists warned the new law would be used to crack down on dissent, an allegation the govern­ment denies.

In 2011, after a wave of protests across the kingdom, King Hamad declared a 3-month state of emer­gency and the right for military courts to try civilians due to con­tinued attacks on the country’s security agencies. However, low-level unrest continued and esca­lated recently.

Bahrain in March said that it had dismantled a 14-man terror cell al­legedly linked to Iran. The cell was said to be connected to a February bombing of a police bus and a plot to assassinate high-ranking offi­cials. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said the cell was planning attacks on the base in Juffair, home to US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Efforts by GCC members Kuwait and Oman to smooth relations be­tween Iran and Gulf Arab states appear to have stalled.

However, in an interview at the end of March with the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said that al­though differences between the GCC and Iran are “large”, the door remained open if “Iran commits to the principles of good neighbour­ing, respects the sovereignty of states, avoids intervening in inter­nal affairs and rejects sectarian­ism”.

“We do not close our doors and cannot close our doors to anyone,” he said. “It remains a neighbour­ing country that is important to us and we should seek better rela­tions with it. However, we have a long road ahead.”