Bahrain passes new law on freedom of speech
Manama, May 22, 2012
Bahrain’s Shura Council has approved an amendment to the Penal Code that will allow people to exercise freedom of expression and speech in line with the Constitution and the National Action Charter, without any repercussions.
It means that members of the public will be free to voice an opinion, as long as it does not directly threaten or insult others.
The Shura Council last week postponed a vote on the amendment, based on complaints that it was unclear.
It approved the legislation yesterday after Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa said it was in line with international freedom of expression conventions.
Shaikh Khalid explained that freedom of expression did not give people the right to commit criminal acts or harm others.
He also stressed that social context and Bahraini culture must be taken into account when deciding if someone had overstepped the mark.
'If someone is holding a banner demanding something, we can't punish him,' he explained.
'But if he is naked then that's not freedom of expression. The judge will have to also assess related circumstances to decide whether to punish someone or free them.'
Shura Council public utilities and environment affairs committee vice-chairman Faoud Al Haji said the new legislation struck the right balance.
'They (Bahrain's leaders) want people to freely express their views and ideas and even criticise - but under guidelines and this amendment strikes the required balance,' he said.
'We didn't need the BICI (Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry) to know that freedom of expression was not being dealt with properly, we should have taken the initiative a long time ago because it would have spared people the agony of being in jail for expressing their minds.
'We have to understand that Bahrain has to work to become a leading democratic nation in which justice and fairness are exercised - and this is the duty of legislators.'
In fact, Al Haji said legislators had actually stood in the way of government attempts to increase freedom of expression in Bahrain.
'Narrow understanding due to limited legislative experience has made legislators think regionally rather than globally and if we are to develop, we have to consider everything and those doors have been opened by the BICI and should always be kept in mind,' he added.
Council member Dr Abdulaziz Abul said the sensible majority should not have their freedoms of expression restricted by the irresponsible acts of a minority.
Meanwhile, fellow member Ibrahim Bashmi said it was time for Bahrain to abolish the death penalty.
'The death sentence has to be abolished for any reason because it is unnecessary,' he said.
However, Shura Council services committee chairman Abdulrahman Abdulsalam argued the death penalty should be handed down to those who use freedom of expression to cause the death of others, such as through hate speeches.
'Those who lead to the death of others should be sentenced to death to set an example to others on how to practise sensible freedom of speech,' he said.
The amendment will be now ratified by His Majesty King Hamad. – TradeArabia News Service