Information Affairs Authority, Manama, 11 July 2012: The unit in charge of the follow up of the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI Follow Up Unit), announced a number of ongoing processes and programs for various ministries and government departments concerned, including development of the judicial authority, accountability, compensations, places of worship and freedom of expression, in its first Interim Report issued today.
On the development of the judicial authority, Dana Al-Zayani, Head of the BICI Follow Up Unit, stated that in implementation of Recommendation 1722 (F) on the training of judges and members of the Public Prosecution, the Government signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Italian International Institute for Higher studies in Criminal Sciences, aimed at providing technical assistance to members of the judiciary through a number of training courses in the fields of protection of human rights, and the international and regional processes concerned with criminal justice and human rights. The agreement also provides for conducting a number of field visits to international agencies active in the field of protection of human rights in Italy, Switzerland and France.
The first training session took place during the period 1 – 21 May at the headquarters of the Institute in Siracusa, Italy, with the participation of 20 judges and public prosecutors who met with a group of international experts for a period of 10 days. During that time, they visited a number of law enforcement agencies in South Italy, followed by a field tour of a number of European capitals starting with Rome, where they visited the headquarters of the General Public Prosecutor, the Supreme Court, and the Forensic Evidence Directorate. Thereafter, they proceeded to Geneva where they visited the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the International Commission of the Red Cross. They then proceeded to Strasburg, France, where they visited the European Court for Human Rights and the Council of Europe. The second training course is scheduled to begin early next month with the participation of 20 Judges and members of Public Prosecution.
In the interest of enhancing the competency and abilities of judges in all fields of contemporary criminal sciences, judges are continuously delegated to participate in training seminars abroad. A female judge participated in a specialized training session at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom from 19th to 30th of March 2012, addressing the subjects of implementation and follow up of implementation of international conventions on human rights. A second female judge participated in the International League Conference of Female Judges held in London this past May, in addition to judges who have participated in a number of conferences held in Egypt, UAE and Kuwait.
On in-house training in the Kingdom, and in addition to regular training sessions organized by the Judicial and Legal Studies Institute, the Public Prosecution received over the period from 23rd April to 3rd May, five legal experts from Germany who met with 30 members of the Public Prosecution over a period of 7 days in two workshops addressing the basic rights of individuals, as well as the German experience in the implementation of the European Standards of Criminal Justice.
Moreover, on May 1st and 2nd the Public Prosecution received the Egyptian Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General who met with 25 public prosecutors over a period of two full days in a seminar on criminal investigations and protection of the rights of individuals in criminal procedure. The Public Prosecution also received two experts from the Kingdom of Morocco who met with 50 members of the Public Prosecution on combatting contemporary forms of organized crime.
The Government has also enlisted the aid of a group of international experts in the field of development of judicial systems, and charged them with the study of the existing conditions and submitting their proposals for changes to be considered.
An international expert was appointed as a permanent advisor to the Higher Judicial Council, to develop Bahrain’s judicial system as a whole and put together a comprehensive strategy including the development of the Public Prosecution. The expert is scheduled to submit a preliminary study in August covering all challenges and best practices. This expert also participates – in a consulting capacity – in the activities of the Committee for Follow up of Implementation of the BICI recommendations.
The Ministry of Justice also requested the American Bar Association (ABA) provide advice and technical assistance by dispatching an international expert to review the current status and submit proposals. The expert commenced his functions in collaboration with a prominent US judge. They filed a comprehensive report that is currently under review to implement its recommendations.
Al-Zayani pointed out that on the issue of accountability of offenders in the violations which occurred during the events of last year, and as determined by Public Prosecution, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) took over 122 cases which were referred to it by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the National Security Agency (NSA). In addition, it directly received forty-five complaints. Fifty complainants were referred to the forensic medical examiner for medical examination.
Moreover, 77 of the accused were questioned directly at all levels of responsibility. Investigations resulted in charges made against 21, including officers. Investigations also resulted in the referral of 13 cases to the courts, including all murder cases, which were referred to SIU by the MoI and NSA. They were all re-investigated and cases are ongoing.
On the legislative side, Al-Zayani said that the Government prepared necessary amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, to ensure that perpetrators of such crimes do not escape punishment. The most significant amendment was the definition of torture, criminalizing acts of inflicting severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, on a detained person by, or under the control of, a civil servant or a serving officer, for the purpose of obtaining information, extracting confession, inflicting punishment, or terrorizing or coercing the detainee or any other person. The amendment also emphasized that the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes of torture.
Furthermore, a draft amendment was prepared making a threat accompanied by a demand or order to prevent or affect a person’s testimony before an investigative authority or a court, an aggravating factor.
On the right of every citizen to claim compensation for injury sustained, an article was added to the Code of Criminal Procedure, allowing any person who alleges that he / she suffered a vengeful act as a result of a previous claim of torture or any other form of inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, to file a civil action suit against the accused while evidence is being gathered, during investigation or before the court trying the criminal case, whichever the case may be, if the vengeful act is considered a crime. If the vengeful act is not a punishable felony, civil courts shall have jurisdiction.
Enactment of Legislative Amendments to Support Freedom of Expression
On aspects related to freedom of expression, the Head of the BICI Follow Up Unit stated that, prior to the issue of the BICI Report, the Government had prepared a draft amendment of a number of penal code provisions related to the regulation of freedom of expression. Those amendments were passed by both Houses of Parliament.
The most important outcome of those amendments is the placement of constraints on the implementation of Article 168 of the Penal Code, which provides for punishment for broadcasting false news, on condition that such an act is deliberate, and results in harm to national security, public order or public health. The new amendment also stipulated that such an act shall have to cause injury in order to be valid. As for undermining national security, the amendment provided that it must be related to incitement of violence, or could cause incitement of violence, and with a direct link to the occurrence or possible occurrence of violent acts.
To further emphasize the necessity of providing full protection of the citizens’ right of expression, a new article was added to the Penal Code emphasizing that the interpretation of restrictions on the right of free expression in the Penal Code or in any other code remains within the necessary framework of a democratic society. It also emphasized that exercising the right of the freedom of expression within this framework is exempt from punishment. To emphasize this aspect, the Public Prosecution, prior to ratification of those amendments, dropped all existing charges that overlap with the right of expression and freedom of opinion, involving 334 cases.
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