Bahrain’s Council of Representatives has approved an amendment to Bahrain’s Constitution that would enable military courts to try civilians, in violation of international fair trial standards, Human Rights Watch has said.
The amendment goes next to the upper house of parliament and then to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for his final approval.
Bahrain’s Constitution currently limits the jurisdiction of military courts to offences by security forces but the move is understood to be linked to the “spread of terrorism in the region”.
Human Rights Watch said it has documented “persistent and systematic” fair trial violations in trials of political dissidents in Bahrain before both civilian and military courts.
“Bahraini courts – civilian as well as military – have been part of the machinery of repression that makes a mockery of fair trial standards when it comes to political dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“Injecting more speed and flexibility into a justice system in Bahrain that is already highly unjust is the wrong way to go.”
The last time Bahraini military courts prosecuted civilians was in the aftermath of anti-government protests in 2011, when they convicted approximately 300 people of political crimes.
The rights group said in a statement that on January 31, a member of Bahrain’s National Assembly, Mohamed al-Ahmed, posted an image of the proposed amendment and an explanatory note to social media.
Military courts operated in Bahrain during King Hamad’s three-month state of emergency, beginning in March 2011.
According to Human Rights Watch, international human rights bodies have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.