Bahrain: MEP Ana Gomes (S&D) raises the alarming resumption of military trials against civilians

30 March 2018 – On 24 November 2017, MEP Ana Gomes (S&D) addressed the worrying resumption of military trials against civilians in a parliamentary question to HR/VP Federica Mogherini, as last October 24th marked the beginning of the first trials of this kind since 2011. Three months later, six civilians have been sentenced to death by Bahrain military court.  

 On 24 October 2017, for the first time since 2011, four civilians appeared before a Bahraini military court on political charges. Sayed Alawi Sayed Husain Alawi, Sayed Fadhel Abbas Hassan Radhi, Mohammed Abdulhassan Al Mutaghwi, and Muhammed Husain Al Shehabi, two of whom were forcibly disappeared, have been held incommunicado and were denied a lawyer, in violation of their right to a fair trial.

This ruling followed an amendment of Bahrain’s Constitution in March 2017 and a new law passed in April which together allow and enforce military trials for civilians charged with crimes against the Bahrain Defence Force and Ministry of Interior Security Forces. Last time the Bahraini Government granted such powers to military courts, when it declared the State of National Safety in 2011, the so-called National Safety Courts (NSC) were used to crush peaceful protesters, in clear breach of the “fundamental principles of a fair trial”, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI)‘s findings.

On 24 November 2017, amid new arbitrary prosecutions of civilians by military courts, MEP Ana Gomes asked:

1. In the light of the extensive due process violations in the use of military courts to try civilians, what steps will the VP/HR take to ensure the release of the four defendants?

2. What actions will the VP/HR undertake against Bahrain’s recurring violation of human rights, including the right to a fair trial?

On 25 December 2017, another military trial proceeding was held against 18 men (17 civilians and 1 soldier), including the four aforementioned defendants, accused of forming a terrorist cell and plotting to assassinate a military official. Death penalty was handed down to six of them, and seven others were sentenced to seven years in prison. All were stripped of their nationality. Five other men were acquitted.

Since then, appeal hearings for 13 men sentenced in December have been repeatedly postponed. On 21 February 2018, Bahrain’s Military High Court of Appeal rejected the appeal of six other defendants, thereby confirming four death sentences. It also reduced the sentence of two defendants from 7 to 5 years. On March 27th, Bahrain’s military court of cassation, the highest military appellate court, postponed trial proceedings for 7 defendants, including the 4 sentenced to death, until April 11. If the court confirms the sentences, the verdict will be final and cannot be challenged.

In a reply to Ms. Gomes’ question posted on 21 February 2018, HR/VP Mogherini stressed that the EU follows the issue “very closely” and had already “raised concerns about the reinstatement of military courts to try civilians” during the EU-Bahrain informal dialogue on human rights in Brussels in April 2017. She further noted that the EU welcomed “the acceptance by Bahrain of the recommendations in the report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry and […] insists on the importance of their swift and comprehensive implementation.

While the ECDHR welcomes EU’s engagement with Bahraini authorities and efforts to “continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to meet all of its international human rights commitments”, ECDHR stresses that the reinstatement of the military courts’ power to try civilians and the recent sentencings to death penalty are, in fact, symptomatic of Bahrain’s backpedalling on the BICI’s recommendations and its unwillingness to effectively implement it. Seven years after the BICI’s recommendations, Bahrain has clearly backtracked on the promises of reforms and the HR/VP can no longer blindly rely on Bahrain’s “acceptance” of those.

The ECDHR urges Bahrain to halt military trials against civilians, in line with the BICI’s recommendations, and recalls that the use of military courts to try civilians not only fails to guarantee the defendants’ fundamental rights to a fair trial, but also violates international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Bahrain ratified in 2006.

Lastly, the ECDHR calls upon the EU and its Member States to increase the diplomatic pressure to push for such urgent reforms with the Bahraini government, in line with the BICI recommendations.

 

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Please find below a full copy of the question of MEP Ana Gomes and the response of HR/VP Federica Mogherini.

Question for written answer to the Commission (Vice-President/High Representative), submitted by MEP Ana Gomes (S&D), 24 November 2017

Subject:  VP/HR — Bahrain: first military trials of civilians since 2011

In April 2017, the King of Bahrain ratified a constitutional amendment granting military courts the right to try civilians deemed to be a threat to Bahrain’s national ‘independence, sovereignty and security’. However, the amendment is likely to be used to try, before a military court, any civilian charged under anti-terrorism laws, including peaceful activists prosecuted on fabricated charges.

Military courts last operated in Bahrain under the 2011 state of national emergency, facilitating the authorities’ suppression of pro-democracy protesters, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report concluded that they systematically violated the fundamental principles of a fair trial.

On 23 October 2017, four defendants facing political charges, namely Sayed Alawi Sayed Husain Al-Alawi, Sayed Fadhel Abbas Hassan Radhi, Muhammed Abdulhassan Al-Mutaghwi and Muhammad Husain Al-Shehabi, appeared before the military court. None of them has been allowed to meet their lawyers and they have been denied regular contact with their families.

1. In the light of the extensive due process violations in the use of military courts to try civilians, what steps will the VP/HR take to ensure the release of the four defendants?

2. What actions will the VP/HR undertake against Bahrain’s recurring violation of human rights, including the right to a fair trial?

Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini, 21 February 2018

The High Representative/Vice-President is well aware of the circumstances raised by the Honourable Member, and has been following the issue of military trials of civilians in Bahrain very closely.

During the last EU-Bahrain informal working group on human rights in Brussels in April 2017, the EU raised concerns about the reinstatement of military courts to try civilians. The EU welcomed the acceptance by Bahrain of the recommendations in the report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry and, in its regular dialogue with the authorities, insists on the importance of their swift and comprehensive implementation. The EU stands ready to assist the Bahraini authorities in this regard.

The EU Delegation in Riyadh (which is also accredited to Bahrain), in close collaboration with EU Member States represented in Manama, has been following the trials of Sayed Alawi Sayed Husain Al-Alawi, Sayed Fadhel Abbas Hassan Radhi, Muhammed Abdulhassan Al-Mutaghwi and Muhammad Husain Al-Shehabi as well as the overall performance of human rights institutions in the country.

As part of its overall approach, which aims to be supportive of Bahrain’s stability through reforms and genuine reconciliation, the EU will continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to meet all of its international human rights commitments, as well as to implement the recommendations of the National Institute for Human Rights and of the Universal Periodic Review.

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