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Bahrain lawmakers approve military trial for civilians

Government forces crushed an uprising by Shias and others who sought political reform [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 February, 2017

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Bahrain's MPs voted on Tuesday to change the constitution to allow civilians to be tried in military courts amid a crackdown on dissent.
Bahraini lawmakers voted to change the constitution to allow civilians to be tried in military courts on Tuesday, further empowering its security forces amid a crackdown on dissent at unseen levels since its 2011 Arab Spring protests.

The decision by the 40-seat Council of Representatives, the elected lower house of the tiny Gulf nation's National Assembly, comes after a royal decree a month ago restored the power of its domestic spy service to make some arrests.

Limiting the power of the National Security Agency was a key reform recommended after authorities put down the 2011 demonstrations.

However, activists immediately decried the vote.

"The Bahraini king is effectively creating a police state with this de facto martial law," Sayed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said in a statement.

Bahrain's government declined to comment as the bill had yet to be approved by the full National Assembly.

The Bahraini king is effectively creating a police state with this de facto martial law
- Sayed Alwadaei, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy

The bill revises a portion of Bahrain's constitution by removing limitations on who military courts can try.

During the council's session, Brig. Gen. Yussef Rashid Flaifel, the head of the country's military courts, told lawmakers the change is needed as the nation is "fighting terrorism."

Lawmakers voted 31-1 to pass the constitutional amendment, with three members on hand not voting.

The bill now heads to the 40-member Consultative Council - a body appointed by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Bahrain is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.

Its government forces, with help from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, crushed the 2011 uprising by its Shia-majority population and others who sought political reform.

Independent news gathering on the island has grown more difficult since the government began a crackdown on dissent in April.

Since 2011, activists have been expelled or imprisoned, and the main Shia opposition group has been dismantled.

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