Middle East

Bahrain Assembly calls for tough action as violence builds

As talks stall, violence has escalated in Bahrain
Image caption As talks stall, violence has escalated in Bahrain

As nightly violence continues in the Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain, the government is considering a set of 22 recommendations from an extraordinary session of the National Assembly.

The session, the first ever in the country, took place on Sunday, 28 July.

The recommendations if implemented in full would effectively return the country to a state of martial law.

They were immediately denounced by the opposition.

In a statement, Al Wefaq, the leading opposition society called the initiative a bid to "scupper any plans between the moderate opposition and reformists in the royal family."

The ruling al-Khalifas are Sunni Muslim in a country with a Shia Muslim majority.

Shia have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the al-Khalifas.

In February 2011, thousands of peaceful demonstrators occupied an iconic landmark in the capital Manama, Pearl Roundabout. They were demanding democratic reform.

Many but by no means all of the protesters were Shia.

Pearl Roundabout was cleared by force and in the months that followed, more than 50 people, including five police officers died.

Hundreds of Shia were arrested, thousands were arbitrarily sacked from their jobs and at least three were beaten to death in custody.

Protests both peaceful and violent have continued on an almost daily basis in the more than two years since the uprising was crushed.

Stalemate and violence

A dialogue intended to find a resolution to the crisis is stuck in stalemate, with the opposition accusing the ruling al-Khalifas of having no intention of making serious reforms.

And with no political solution in sight, increasingly angry Shia youth have stepped up their nightly attacks, armed with Molotov cocktails, barricades of burning tyres and homemade guns.

In July, a policeman was killed when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up. Several more were injured in Molotov cocktail attacks.

It was in response to the ongoing violence that the National Assembly met on Sunday, 28 July.

One recommendation called for "tough penalties...and severe punishment on all kinds and forms of violence and terror".

Another said the 2006 anti-terrorism law which already provides for sweeping powers should be made even more stringent.

Others include the call to ban "sit-ins, rallies and gatherings in the capital Manama."

The opposition has called for a peaceful mass rally in the capital on Bahrain's Independence day, 14 August.

In its statement Al Wefaq said: "This has nothing to do with violence and is clearly about repressing the democracy movement."

Recommendation 11, a request that "ambassadors not interfere in the kingdom's domestic affairs" is widely seen as a swipe at the American Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski.

The ambassador had been criticised in May for what the official BNA news agency called "his repeated meetings with instigators of sedition".

Two of the 22 recommendations referred to the ongoing national dialogue and to "an adherence to a balanced moderate discourse."

One western diplomat described the extraordinary session as a "statement of intent," adding " right now they are recommendations and they don't give the king any more power than he already has".

The diplomat pointed to the opposition call for a mass rally on Bahrain's Independence Day and to an escalation of violence during Ramadan as the most likely reasons why the recommendations are being put forward now.

In the wake of the recommendations, a Bahraini human rights organisation has reported the arrest of an activist blogger, Mohammed Hassan.

Mr Hassan also works as a fixer for foreign news organisation.