Amnesty International

AI Index: MDE 11/003/2006 (Public) News Service No: 197 27 July 2006

Bahrain: Counter-terrorism bill threatens human rights

Amnesty International is calling on the Bahrain government to reconsider its new counter-terrorism bill. As it stands now, the new bill undermines human rights protection in the country. The Bill, entitled ‘Protecting Society from Terrorist Acts’, was approved by both the House of Representatives (Parliament) and the appointed Shura (Consultative) Council on 16 July and 22 July 2006 respectively. It has now been referred to His Majesty Shaikh Hamad bin ‘Issa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, for final ratification.

The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism have expressed concern that the Bill poses risks to the peaceful exercise of human rights. Amnesty International strongly urges the King to initiate a thorough reconsideration of the new Bill, taking into account the following observations:

The Bill’s definition of terrorist crimes is too broad

Amnesty International is concerned that some of the articles of the Bill define terrorism without sufficient precision. This undermines the principle of legality (which requires that criminal law be formulated sufficiently clearly and precisely to allow individuals to know what constitutes a crime) and risks criminalizing the peaceful exercise of the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Article 1, for example, includes ‘threatening national unity’ within the prohibited aims of a terrorist act.

As noted on 25 July 2006 by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Bill defines terrorism without reference to a specific intention to cause death or serious injury. For example, Article 6 of the Bill makes it a crime to provide accommodation or subsistence to persons who are later convicted of terrorist crimes, without a requirement that the individuals providing accommodation or subsistence to such persons themselves intended to cause death or serious injury or to further terrorist ends.

The Bill restricts freedom of association and assembly

Article 6 fails adequately to define what constitutes a terrorist association or organization and instead implies that any political organization opposed to the Bahraini Constitution is a terrorist body. It also vaguely defines a terrorist organization as one which aims to 'prevent any of the State enterprises or public authorities from exercising their duty' and to 'harm the national unity'. This may place restrictions on the activities of political opposition and even human rights defenders. While Article 6 provides that those assisting terrorist groups or joining them will only be penalized if they ‘knew’ of the organizations’ terrorist aims, if terrorist aims are not adequately defined, this provision would not offer a sufficient safeguard against politically-motivated trials and unsafe convictions.

The Bill restricts freedom of expression

Article 11 criminalizes the 'promotion' of terrorist acts and the possession of documents containing such promotional material. In light of the broad definition of terrorist acts in the Bill, this provision restricts the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in international law, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds.

The Bill grants the Public Prosecutor excessive discretion and heightens the risk of torture or ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention

Article 27 allows for extensive detention before charge without judicial review. It only demands that the public prosecutor reviews the detention of any individual held for more than five days if the arresting authorities seek to extend the detention period. This can be for another 10 days. The public prosecutor is not a judicial authority and lacks the requisite independence to be a check against arbitrary detention. Furthermore, Article 28 of the Bill allows the security services to ask for extension of pre-charge detention (as specified in Article 27) on the basis of secret evidence which the detainee has no access to and cannot challenge.

A maximum period of 15 days' detention without judicial review is a violation of the right to liberty and security of the person. It also places the detainee at a heightened risk of torture or ill-treatment.

The issue of the death penalty and other punishments in the Bill

Amnesty International is concerned that the Bill empowers the courts to impose the death penalty and fails to provide essential procedural safeguards for people facing a possible death sentence. The organization believes that the death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Furthermore, Amnesty International finds the increases in punishment as stipulated in Article 3 problematic given the broad definition of the offences in the Bill.

As a member of the new Human Rights Council, it is particularly important that the Kingdom of Bahrain uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and reflect these standards in its national legislation. Amnesty International therefore urges the Bahraini authorities to conduct a full review of the counter-terrorism Bill and bring it into line with international human rights law standards.