Bahrain on Sunday approved a constitutional change allowing military courts to try civilians, the kingdom’s latest rollback on reforms made after its 2011 Arab Spring protests.
The measure was voted for by the 40-member Consultative Council, the Bahraini parliament’s upper house which is appointed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The approval came less than two weeks after the 40-seat Council of Representatives, the parliament’s elected lower house, passed the change with little opposition.
The bill revises a portion of Bahrain’s constitution by removing limitations on who military courts can try.
Supporters of Bahrain’s rulers call the change necessary to fight terrorism with the recent escalation of the persistent low-level unrest that followed the 2011 Arab Spring demonstrations. Activists, however, warn the amendment will allow an undeclared state of martial law in the country.
In the wake of the 2011 protests, which were crushed by the authorities, military courts tried hundreds of defendants. A government-appointed investigation criticised the use of the courts, saying they were employed “to punish those in the opposition” and raised “a number of concerns about their conformity with international human rights law”.
Bahrain’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the constitutional change.
This is not the first step away from reforms Bahrain made after the protests. Already, the kingdom has restored the power of its feared domestic spy service to make some arrests.
* Associated Press