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Bahrain: Constitutional Amendment Allows Military Trials of Civilians

(Mar. 22, 2017) On March 6, 2017, the Bahraini Parliament (Shura Council) approved an amendment to article 105(b) of the Bahraini Constitution of 2002.  (Bahrain: Constitution of February 14 in English (2002) (Constitution), ACE Electoral Knowledge Network website.)  Members of the Council approved the constitutional amendment two weeks after it was passed by the National Assembly, the lower chamber of the Parliament.  (Constitutional Amendment in Bahrain Permits Civilian to Be Tried Before Military Courts, BBC NEWS (Mar. 5, 2016) (in Arabic).)

The newly amended provision authorizes military courts to have jurisdiction over civilians charged with terrorism offenses.  Bahrain’s Constitution formerly limited the jurisdiction of military courts to offenses committed by security forces, stating “[t]he law regulates the military judiciary and shows its competencies with regard to the Bahrain Defense Force, the National Guard and the Public Security Forces.”  (Explanatory Note on the Draft Amendment to Clause (b) of Article 105 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain (first circulated Feb. 2, 2017) (English translation), Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain website.)

The explanatory note related to the approved amendment recommended the replacement of the text of article 105(b) with a new paragraph that extends the mandate of the military justice system to include certain crimes that are defined by law, including offenses committed against the security apparatus.  The explanatory note also calls also for a flexible and speedy military justice system to be established.  (Id.)

Reactions to the Provision

International human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch opposed the amendment.  In a report issued on February 23, 2017, Human Rights Watch stated “that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.”  (Bahrain: Proposed Military Trials of Civilians, Human Rights Watch website (Feb 23, 2017).)

Similarly, local activists such as Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, criticized the new amendment.  He called it a “defacto martial law.”  (Bahrain Parliament Approves Military Trials for Civilians, DAWN (Mar. 6, 2017).)