Tightening the noose
Six years ago, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof described his experience of being detained during the aftermath of Bahrain′s Arab Spring protests as a glimpse ″through a haze of tear gas, [at] hints of a police state.″
Kristof explained how even medical personnel like Dr. Ali al-Ekri – momentarily at liberty but facing lengthy imprisonment – were tortured and prosecuted for treating injured demonstrators. Noting that if it were Syria or Iran perpetrating such abuses ″the White House would thunder with indignation,″ Kristof implored the U.S. to condemn just as strongly the repression of allies like Bahrain. Unfortunately, he could have written those same words yesterday.
But that′s not to say nothing′s changed. Since 2011, the ″hints of a police state″ have metastasised. While Dr. al-Ekri endured five years in prison, his profession – healthcare – has come under the direct control of the military. Police now run the ambulance service.
The incessant expansion of the security apparatus – or outright militarisation – has infected more and more sectors of Bahraini society. In fact, it′s now been written into the country′s constitution itself.
Military courts to try civilian cases
On 3 April 2017, Bahrain′s king confirmed a constitutional amendment that had long been in the making, already approved by both houses of the kingdom′s rubberstamp parliament: military courts can now try civilians ″accused of threatening the security of the state.″
Previously, the 2002 constitution barred military courts from hearing cases against civilians unless the king had declared martial law or a State of National Safety. This is what took place in 2011, when the government established military tribunals to expedite the conviction of protestors, human rights defenders, doctors and politicians.
By the end – after a masterclass in authoritarian judicial theatre replete with forced testimony and boxes of unsealed, unregistered evidence – hundreds were imprisoned on charges stemming from free expression, association and assembly. The kangaroo courts were so blatant in their violations of due process that the U.S.-hailed Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) urged the government to order immediate reviews by civilian judges and ultimately commute all convictions ″where fundamental principles of fair trial were not respected″ and ″for offences involving political expression.″A year later, at its second-cycle UN Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, Bahrain accepted numerous recommendations from other states reiterating these proposals, including one from Ireland calling for the express prohibition of ″civilians being tried in military courts in the future.″