Step in to the magical time-machine my friends and let's go back in time to the 90s!!! Re-live those oh so enjoyable memories of the State Security law when you could get jailed for merely taking part in a peaceful protest. Oh how I cherish those days when it was impossible for anyone to say anything out loud in public without being threatened by the government. Ah, those were the days my friends.
Well we may get a chance to experience it all again if the government has its way and our parliament passes the proposed law on public demonstrations to gain a few brownie points. The esteemed MPs who are supporting this bill argue that the new law will help democracy. MP Adel Al-Moawada is quoted in the Gulf News as saying:
The proposed legislation is aimed to regulate freedoms, not to restrict them.
Let me be clear. I would normally support a law that regulates protests since it is very important to have legislation that makes perfectly clear what the rights and restrictions of both the demonstrators and the authorities are. However it's hard to take our MPs seriously when the very chairman of the Council of Representatives, Khalifa al-Dhahrani, is quoted in Al-Ayam as saying: "If I were a security officer, I would use a bulldozer to remove these cars," when speaking about the peaceful car parade rallies that took place in support of Al-Khawaja in the past.
And after reading the details of the proposed law, it seems our scepticism of the MPs is well founded. The draft law proposes that anyone who want to organize a demonstration must get prior permission from the governor(s) of the governorate(s) in which they plan to hold it, and it can only be held between 9am and sunset. Anyone that holds an unauthorised demonstration can be fined up to BD1,000 (that's about US$2,650) and jailed for two years! And this is supposed to promote "real democracy"? What a joke. It is obvious that the real reason for these stiff penalties is to create red tape for activists, and to scare away any citizens who might be thinking about attending a protest. Think about it. If you are a parent supporting children, or if your parents are dependent on you, it would be too much of a risk to attend a protest which might end you up in jail and leave your loved ones helpless.
Also, this law makes no mention of regulating the interference of the police in protests. So at the end of the day the draft law imposes a bunch of restrictions on demonstrators, and leaves the authorities to do as they please.
This is a terrible blow to democracy and freedom. Let's hope that it doesn't get passed, but it seems unlikely. Here is something you can do sitting at home. Find the name of the MP representing your constituency from this directory, and then e-mail/fax/phone/sms them a polite message telling them how you feel, and how you want them to vote on the proposed law in parliament. Also, be sure to send your message to MP Khalifa al-Dhahrani, the Chairperson, and supporter of the bill. Maybe your efforts won't make a difference, but it's still important to exhaust all available options. Also, does anyone know if the Crown Prince has a public e-mail address at which citizens can contact him?
Here is the report from the Khaleej Times with the details of the proposed law:
MANAMA People taking part in unauthorised demonstrations and protests may face a fine up to BD1, 000 and jail for up to two years, if a proposal submitted by the government gets the approval of the Chamber of Deputies.
The draft law was presented to the Cabinet and was then transferred to the Chamber of Deputies for discussion and approval, is aimed at regularising the procedures of holding protests and curtailing unauthorised demonstrations. The draft law states that those who call upon, organise or hold unauthorised meetings, protests or demonstrations will be jailed for up to two years or fined up to BD1,000; those who call protests under false pretences or hold protests on the basis of false information will be jailed for up to four months and fined up to BD500; and those who take part in violent demonstrations or in those banned by the security forces or unauthorised ones will be jailed for up to four months and fined up to BD500.
Further, people using or carrying weapons during protests will be jailed for up to one year and fined up to BD500.
The draft law also states that board members and members of the management of unions, societies and clubs, including sports clubs, will be jailed for up to six months and fined up to BD500 if they hold an unauthorised meeting at their premises.
If a violation occurs at the premises of the unauthorised meeting and the board members do not call it off, they will be fined between BD1,000 and BD5,000.
If the violation occurs more than once in a year, the security forces can suspend the licence for 60 days.
People wanting to hold a protest should request permission from the governor of the concerned governorate by providing all the relevant details such as the location and time.
Additionally, if a protest is to take place in more than one governorate, permission should be obtained from the Minister for the Interior.
The governor has the right to change the location of the demonstration if it will cause traffic chaos or harm security.
Demonstrations can only be held between 9am and before sunset unless approved by the government, the draft law states.
Further, demonstrations cannot be held for poll campaigning.
The draft law also says that vehicles cannot be used in demonstrations unless approved by the interior minister.
When a violation occurs, security forces can confiscate the driving licence, registration and number plates for 30 days.