26 Nov – 2 Dec 2015

The main item of business in this week’s Council of Representatives session was a draft counter-terrorism law. The proposals give the security services and the judicial apparatus greater powers for addressing terrorism. Twenty-three MPs voted in favour of the draft; seven voted against; while a number of others absented themselves during the vote.

Counter-terrorism law

The revisions to the “Law for the Protection of Society from Acts of Terrorism” increase punishments for involvement in terrorist activities. These include punishment for “providing training in using weapons and manufacturing explosives for use in terrorist activities”. This crime now carries a sentence of seven years to life imprisonment.

The main issue of controversy for MPs was related to the extension of maximum detention periods for those suspected to be involved in terrorist actions up to 28 days. The previous maximum detention period was five days. An arresting officer only has grounds for detaining someone for this period if they submit sound evidence that the suspect was involved in terrorist actions.

Chairman of the National Security Committee, Abdullah Bin-Huwail, strongly defended the proposals. He warned that terrorism was a worldwide threat and noted that France was also increasing its counter-terrorism measures. “Approving this draft is a necessity for stopping those planning terrorism;” he asserted.

Islamist MPs staunchly supported the proposals. Abdulhalim Murad said: “The protection of society and the public is even more of a priority than the law itself. The law is useless when there is anarchy.” Nabil al-Balooshi argued that the security authorities best understood what measures were required for combatting terrorism. “These laws were introduced to protect human rights;” he said.

Jamal Buhassan said: “We should not look at terrorism from a sectarian perspective. Terrorism doesn’t distinguish between its victims. It has no religion. Take account of how they target mosques.”

Although a majority of MPs were clearly in favour of the measures, several deputies, like Shaikh Majid al-Majid expressed annoyance that MPs could only reject or accept the document without proposing amendments. Shaikh Majid al-Asfour echoed this view, saying: “These draft laws rob us of our right to contribute our perspective as the legislative branch. I call on Parliament to reject this draft so that we can have our say.” Other MPs expressed concerns about the vague definition of terrorism and other language used in the draft.

Chairman of the Legal Committee, Ali al-Atish, criticized the proposals, which he noted had also been rejected by the National Institution for Human Rights. “If we accept the harshness of this draft law, then what do we leave for a state of emergency?” he asked. 

Former Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, Khaled al-Shaer, noted that the new measures gave more powers to the police than the Public Prosecution. He warned that there were “constitutionally-problematic” aspects to the draft and that it would attract criticism from abroad, but added “We will pass this draft because of our trust in His Majesty the King”.

Fatima al-Asfour, responding to Al-Shaer, said: “I am astounded that an MP can claim that the draft law verges on the unconstitutional, but he will approve it anyway and leave the Interior Ministry to implement it.” She challenged the “elastic” language of the proposals, adding: “Twenty-eight days is a long period and is in breach of personal freedoms as protected by the law”.

Parliament Deputy Chairman Ali al-Aradi challenged MPs who had questioned the constitutionality of the proposals. Regarding 28-day detention, Al-Aradi noted the complexity of dealing with weapons smuggling and manufacture, along with other factors which required longer investigation times.

Other weekly business

Several significant private bills were agreed during the weekly Parliament session. MPs voted to approve a proposal for guaranteeing two per cent of vacant public sector posts each year for disabled applicants. 

Many MPs also spoke in support of a draft bill for devoting one dollar from each barrel of oil to the Upcoming Generations Fund. The Finance Minister expressed reservations and suggested that the money should be put into a reserve fund for helping support the State Budget, but the motion was passed by MPs anyway.

Representatives approved a motion for establishing an authority for renewable energy in Bahrain, as well as a proposal for a center for promoting the sale of Bahraini gold. A proposal which had been delayed from the previous week was also approved for giving special passports to senior retired military staff.

National Participation Bloc

Al-Watan newspaper on 1 December reported that the new parliamentary bloc to be headed by Hamad al-Dossary was to be named the “National Participation Bloc”. The bloc is the only grouping in the Parliament to bring together both Sunni and Shia MPs and is by far the largest bloc announced so far. Along with the ten other names which had been previously announced, it was reported that the previous Finance Committee Chairman, Isa al-Kooheji, would join the bloc.

Two other blocs have been announced – the National Bloc and Accord Bloc – in recent weeks, both with around 5-6 MPs. There is also an informal grouping of Islamist MPs centred on the Salafist Al-Asalah Political Society.

Benefits for retired MPs

The appointed Shura Council put itself at odds with the elected Council of Representatives during its weekly session on Sunday when it voted to reject the draft bill extending full retirement benefits to MPs who had served less than the full four year Parliament term.

Supporters of the bill noted that the 18 MPs who entered Parliament during the 2011 by-election at the height of the unrest had exposed themselves to significant personal risk in service of their country and were thus entitled to financial recognition.

Opponents in the Shura Council noted that agreeing the bill would incur significant additional costs which the State Budget wasn’t in a position to bear.

Women’s Committee Rejects CEDAW

On 30 November the parliamentary Women and Children’s Committee decided to reject full implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, based on a number of reservations. This contradicts the position of the Government, which in 2014 declared that it was lifting all reservations to CEDAW.

Committee member, MP Muhsin al-Bakri, said that the Committee “unanimously” rejected the Convention on several points, notably that “women cannot be granted freedom to travel and the freedom of choice for the place they want to live”. The Committee also rejected the equal rights of men and women with regard to marriage and the custody of children.

According to standard parliamentary procedure, the conclusions of the Committee would be passed on to the rest of Parliament, which would then vote on the bill – this means that the majority of MPs still have the opportunity to vote against the opinion of this Committee and in favour of CEDAW and equal rights for women.

In November Islamist MPs successfully lobbied for the removal of former Chairwoman of the Committee, Jamila al-Sammak and the installation of Rua al-Haiki in her place. Islamists were left in a dominant position in this small committee, with figures like Salafist cleric Anas Buhindi and the conservative MP Muhsin al-Bakri; with Al-Haiki apparently beholden to those who gave her the chairwoman role.

Citizens for Bahrain has issued a statement strongly criticizing the rejection of CEDAW.

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