This issue about a draft law to "regulate" protest demonstrations is really quite concerning. You can read some of the penalties under the proposed law by clicking here. Also, the GDN has finally got its act together and published a good report about this issue, which you can read by clicking here (Good on ya, GDN!).
For me personally, the thing that I'm concerned the most about is the restriction on expats. Under the proposed law, only Bahraini citizens will be allowed to participate in demonstrations. This point alone is completely ridiculous. As a socially concerned non-citizen I feel humiliated by this outright discrimination. The right to "freedom of peaceful assembly" is such a fundamental principle that must be afforded to anyone regardless of nationality. And it is something that I believe expats will need to make use of in the near future (especially when we consider that people are threatening to burn down expat labour camps in Sitra).
Asides from this, other points that raise (bloody huge) alarm bells is that the protest organizers must submit in advance for approval all materials (printed, video, or audio) that will be distributed at the event. And the Governer can choose to have the route of a march changed at his discretion to any other place. And, the police has the right stand anywhere as long as it's not where the speaker is. So, as Ebrahim al-Sayed says in the GDN report, the cops could even choose to stand in the front row of a protest march!
Everyone in Bahrain should be outraged by this humiliating draft law that treats us all as though we are kids in a schoolground. Mahmood has issued a call to arms to all Bahraini citizens to contact their MPs about this and tell them that you disagree with the law. He is also working on online petitions. It is time that we wake up and start doing something. Enough is enough. Before this, we could accuse the MPs of merely being useless. But in pushing this draft law the MPs are actually trying to restrict our freedoms and working against the desires of the people they represent. Let's put an end to this rubbish.
Below are some of the penalties from the proposed law on demonstrations, as published in the GDN on 9-Nov-04
Penalties under the proposed law include the following:
Article 21: Anyone who calls for or organises an unlicensed public meeting, rally, demonstration or gathering, will face a prison sentence of not more than two years or a fine of up to BD1,000, or both. Anyone who announces a public meeting, rally, demonstration or gathering without permission, will face a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine not exceeding BD500, or both.
Article 22: Anyone attempting to organise an unlicensed gathering will face a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine of up to BD500, or both.
Article 23: Organisers who are granted permission to stage a public gathering based on false information given to authorities will face up to four months in jail or a fine of up to BD500, or both.
Article 24: Anyone taking part in an unlicensed public gathering despite a warning from public security authorities, faces up to six months in jail or a fine of up to BD500, or both.
Similar penalties will be imposed on anyone taking part in a public gathering, which takes place at a different time or location than originally stated or strays from the authorised route. Those who take part in the public gathering, despite orders to disperse, face similar penalties.
Article 25: Anyone taking part in a public gathering while carrying or hiding a weapon, even if licensed, faces a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of up to BD500, or both.
Article 26: Anyone using a vehicle at a public gathering without a licence from the Interior Ministry faces up to four months in prison and a fine of up to BD50.
Article 27: Board members or directors of a society, club, sports organisation or company face a up to six months in prison and/or a fine of up to BD500 if they allow an unlicensed public gathering to take place at its premises.
Article 28: Anyone who violates the provisions of these articles - either through negligence, approval or by covering up the actions of others - faces a fine of BD1,000 to BD5,000.
Article 29: People not punishable under the law are:
* Anyone, excluding organisers, that leaves an unlicensed gathering before or after being warned by police without committing a crime.
* Organisers of a public gathering which violates the law, who can prove they took all measures available to stop a crime being committed
Article 30: If any of the above is duplicated in another existing law, whichever has the stricter penalty will apply.
Below is a GDN report, published on 9-Nov-04, about the proposed law on gatherings.
MPs debate right to peaceful protest
Tough penalties could be imposed under a proposed new law to control public gatherings in Bahrain. ROBERT SMITH reports
A NEW draft law on public gatherings is likely to create fierce debate in Parliament, with opponents already campaigning against it.
They say it restricts freedoms because anyone who organises a public gathering without government permission could be jailed and fined.
The draft law has been proposed by the government and forwarded to Parliament for approval.
If MPs back the law, anyone who organises a public gathering without permission faces up to two years in prison or a fine of up to BD1,000, or both.
Lawyer and MP Fareed Rafie expects the law to be passed because of large government support in Parliament and the Shura Council, which will also review the draft.
He says the important thing is to modify it to make sure that by the time it goes through, it does not threaten the rights of citizens.
This week the legislative and legal affairs committee member has been visiting fellow MPs to persuade them to push for changes in the draft.
"I am one of the few liberal MPs," he said. "We don't have the majority to reject this law in Parliament.
"So I am trying to go through the articles and remove from the law anything that is against freedom and democracy."
He thinks the government drafted such a strict law because it expected MPs to make changes in Parliament.
"I think if you read between the lines the government wants Parliament to reduce it," said Mr Rafie, who is a member of the Bahrain Bar Society and a practising lawyer.
He expects parliament to vote on the draft legislation some time after Eid, but says it could take less than two months to go through Shura Council, before being submitted to His Majesty King Hamad for ratification.
The law defines public gatherings as any meeting that takes place in a public or private place, which does not require an invitation to attend.
"This law is draconian," said National Democratic Action Society (NDAS) board member Ebrahim Alsayed.
"We call it the law against gatherings - not the law to regulate gatherings. That's because the provisions of this law are so harsh."
If the law is passed, organisers of any public gathering will have to apply for permission from the governor of the area where it will take place.
He is appointed by the government and would decide whether or not to give the go-ahead depending on the number of people taking part, the subject of the gathering and the materials that will be distributed.
Under current laws, organisers of any public gathering simply have to notify the government it will take place.
Under the draft law, organisers could be penalised for announcing their event before getting permission.
The request would have to be submitted five days in advance and be signed by three to 10 people - including their names; occupations; addresses; CPR numbers; the reason for the meeting; the duration, time and place and the route of any march.
The application would have to be accompanied by any printed, video or audio materials that will be distributed.
"It is pre-emptive," said Mr Alsayed.
"They have to see the material to see if they will give permission.
"It is not just looking at it from a security point of view - such as making sure the roads are not blocked.
"It is also a scrutiny of the material that will be presented."
Under the draft law, an event could only be advertised once the governor has given permission for it to go ahead.
However, he does not have to grant permission until two days before it is due to take place.
Opponents to the law say this is not enough time to advertise the event.
"You can't possibly organise a big event with two days notice," said Mr Alsayed.
"By the time you announce the event it is just one day before it takes place.
"That is impossible to call for a large gathering.
"They put these provisions to make it impossible for a large gathering to happen.
"Even if it is approved it is too late to advertise."
If the governor refused permission, organisers of any gathering would have three days to appeal to the Interior Minister, who would then have three days to respond.
However, if the governor rejects an application two days in advance and the organisers appeal immediately - they might have to wait three days for a response, by which time the day of their event would have come and gone.
If the Interior Minister refused they could also appeal to the Supreme Civil Appeals Court, which would decide the urgency of the request before issuing a final verdict.
However, opponents say that even if the court granted permission for a gathering to take place after the governor blocked it, it would be too late.
"If you appeal it takes time and by the time you got approval, the event you wanted to stage could have become irrelevant," said Mr Alsayed.
In addition, anyone organising an event must be a resident of the area where it will take place and also "belong" there.
That means under the new law, anyone who wanted to organise a demonstration outside Parliament would have to be from that particular area of Manama.
Every gathering would also require an organising committee of at least three people, who would be responsible for maintaining order.
They would have to halt anything that went against religion, breaks the law, damages the reputation of the state or is critical of a friendly country.
Police can choose to attend a gathering and sit wherever they want, as long as it is not where the speakers are, under the draft law.
"They could sit on the front row if they wanted to," said Mr Alsayed.
Authorities could also move in to end a gathering if they thought it would result in a breach of security.
"This is pre-emptive again," said Mr Alsayed.
"If they even think this will happen they can end the gathering."
The proposed legislation also limits the hours when gatherings can take place and prevents demonstrations taking place at night, unless permission is specifically granted.
It also says that only Bahraini citizens can take part in political protests.
"That could mean that if you want to demonstrate against the US occupation of Iraq, only Bahrainis could take part - not Iraqis," said Mr Alsayed.
Marches that move from one governorate to another have to be approved by the Interior Ministry, while the governor can change the route of any march or the place of gathering, under the draft law.
"He could send you to a small alley where nobody would notice your demonstration," said Mr Alsayed.
The sentence for attending an unlicensed gathering would be six months in jail or a BD500 fine, or both, under the draft.
"We are talking about people who attend a peaceful gathering," said Mr Alsayed.
"We are not talking about fighting with a police officer. We are talking about people attending an unlicensed demonstration."
Those gatherings not covered by the draft law include those that are "purely religious", are arranged by a government body, or are called by official clubs and societies to discuss matters related to them.
They do not have to apply for permission.
However, only members of societies and clubs can attend meetings organised by them and they can only discuss topics specifically related to the organisation's field of work.
Otherwise it is regarded as a public gathering and organisers have to get a licence.
Electoral meetings are also dealt with separately under the law.
"The government supporters say it is a response to unruly demonstrations in recent weeks," said Mr Alsayed.
"But we are saying there are enough provisions in the existing laws to punish people that committed crimes.
"Anyone that acted unreasonably at demonstrations could have been taken to court without the need for this law."
In addition, Mr Alsayed expressed concern over the "selective" way laws are applied.
"If you want to stage a car parade they say it is blocking traffic - that is a fair objection," he said.
"The next time a football team wins a competition they will go on a car parade. Will they stop them? No.
"It is the practice in Bahrain when people get married for a motorcade to follow the bride and groom. Will they stop this? No.
"People will not take permission. What are 100 cars on the highway?
"But when members of the opposition do a similar thing it becomes a traffic obstruction and a danger to life."
He added that unlicensed demonstrations would go ahead regardless - even if the law were passed by parliament.
"We are going to test this law very quickly," he said.
"We won't let the state have a honeymoon. If they pass the resolution we will make sure the prisons are full of people who break this law."
Those sentiments were echoed by Nabeel Rajab, president of the now dissolved Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR).
Most of the demonstrations over the past month have been calling for the release of BCHR executive director Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, who was arrested after speaking at a poverty seminar organised by the society in September.
He faces charges including inciting hatred against the government.
"We find the draft law very dangerous," said Mr Rajab, who described it as a knee-jerk reaction.
"This will control all gatherings - even peaceful protests.
"This kind of activity is the only way to express your opinion. It is the only one not controlled by the government.
"It means that if you want to protest against the government you have to take permission, but I don't think they will grant permission for you to criticise it.
"They are talking about punishment and jail. It will take us back to the 60s and 70s."