Release of 178 Detainees by Royal Pardon Means

Containing Violence at Official and Public levels

On 11 April, the citizens of Bahrain were surprised with the issue of a royal pardon, on the 11th of April, regarding the 178 individuals charged with security offences. The pardon included Sheikh Mohammed Al Moqdad and Hassan Mushaima as well as the so called ‘Hujjaira detainees’ and others accused of setting fires in the streets. As for those accused of causing the death of a foreign worker and a policeman by attacking their cars, they will remain imprisoned until the problem is resolved with the victims’ families. On the 12th of April, the day after the royal pardon, all remaining detainees were released amidst great public joy expressed by civil and political societies in the country. In their statements the societies welcomed the move and thanked the King, and public reactions to the pardon were immediately reflected on the streets, where people expressed their joy by carrying pictures of the King and shouting slogans expressing loyalty to him.

The Minister of Interior, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, explained the reasons for the royal pardon by saying that ‘the decision comes within the framework of the amnesty and forgiveness approach that characterized the reform project; aims to instill hope and promote confidence; and allows everyone to participate in creating an atmosphere of peace and security as well as deepening the feeling of good will.’ He added that ‘if justice is the basis of ruling a country, then amnesty and forgiveness are its title for his royal highness’. The Minister also addressed those who were pardoned saying ‘you should make use of your experience, learn a valuable lesson and become constructive members in your society, caring for its security instead of damaging it’. He also called for the support of the leadership in order to protect national unity and the social fabric and in order to unify efforts and create strong convictions among influential groups in order to work within the framework of national objectives. He added that political and religious rhetoric as well as the media should be directed towards unifying all parties, renouncing discord and extremism, and spreading love and forgiveness amongst fellow countrymen.

As a result of the royal pardon, the court has indefinitely postponed looking into all security cases. The competent judge decided to suspend the case of six youths from the Samaheej area accused of attempting to burn the Samaheej police station. On the other hand, the Public Prosecutor, Ali Fadil Al Boaynain, announced that prisons in Bahrain are currently empty of all individuals charged with security offences, with the exception of two cases relating to private rights.

On 14 April 2009, the King called for strengthening the role of MPs and the legislative authority in the country. He stressed that they should be regarded as the basic reference points for dialogue and the correct channel for discussing peoples’ demands, pointing to the fact that the streets are not the appropriate place for settling differences nor is the use of violence a legitimate means of attaining rights. He said that ‘the responsibility to promote dialogue at this stage lies in the hands of the voters and their parliamentary representatives; they should refer to them on whatever they desire in regards to dialogue issues, for these representatives are elected by the people, and in accordance with the Constitution both they and other members of the Consultative (Shura) Council are the legislative authority in the country, and the rightful body which has the authority to listen to citizens’ demands and to discuss the issues with them directly. This is in order to transform these demands into legislations and bills that can be implemented in accordance with the Constitution.’

The King also pointed to the importance of ‘having a clear understanding of this constitutional right and practicing it in practical terms through communication with MPs.’ He stressed that national dialogue is the basis for any reform action and has yielded the National Action Charter which resulted in a major shift towards change in the state such as regular elections, democratic practices, as well as widening the margin of freedom and working to promote women’s rights and human rights in general.

In contrast to this, the radical Bahrain Freedom Movement felt a great loss in their position and in what the consequences of the royal pardon would mean at the local arena. They presented an inaccurate reading of the political situation and issued a harsh statement entitled ‘Thank you Molotov’, in which they claim that the credit of the pardon is due to the use of violent means, including setting fires and destroying public properties with gas cylinders among others!

As initial reaction, the Al-Wafaq Society issued a statement in which they thanked the King and stressed that the royal pardon is a big step and marked a new beginning towards a better future in the country. They added that Bahrain has recently been through a dark tunnel and unprecedented political and security crisis which have affected social movement and political action. The Society stressed the need to open up new horizons for political action which push towards maturity and stability, serving the country and its reputation, and re-affirmed its commitment to peaceful means and abiding by the law.

On 13 and 16 April 2009, the Secretary-General of Al-Wafaq Society, Sheikh Ali Salman, refuted in interviews with Al Wasat newspaper the existence of a deal between the Government and his Society which resulted in the release of the detainees. He stressed that his political society is ‘the powerful in Parliament’ and will not be lenient with any attempt to incite riots and violence or assault public properties. He also expressed the willingness of the Society to take to the street if necessary, in order to confront advocates of violence adding that ‘if it was not for the King’s patience and his determination to meet with scholars in order to bypass these dark months, this pardon would not have been achieved’.

Sheikh Salman also condemned dealing with differences through the use of violence which distorted citizens’ demands and rights in the eyes of human rights, political and diplomatic bodies. He said that freedom of expression is guaranteed in the country and should not be confiscated, stressing that demanding rights can be achieved by peaceful means. He called upon the opposition to engage in politics away from violence, adding that despite certain limitations in the law ‘there is still sufficient room to work through it and political forces need not resort to violence. The authority should be more open to demonstrations and opposing opinions and the opposition should be more patient and not resort to violence either directly or indirectly’.