Sedition and Legal Accountability

The political crisis in Bahrain has created sedition in the country. Sedition can be defined as the involvement of a large group in a conflict, during which moral, religious and political responsibility cannot be confined to a specific group. Based on historical and modern experiences implementing the law at times of sedition becomes a very difficult task. This is due to the fact that many people involved and thus share the responsibility for their speeches, written articles or inaction. In order to deal with the repercussions of any sedition and defuse tension, decision–makers need to either pardon everyone or limit punishment to those directly involved.

Many prominent officials believed that the initial demands raised by the protesters were legitimate. Today we realised that some of the protesters’ demands were unrealistic and against national consensus. Also, extreme political rhetoric was used in airing these demands, which insulted Government symbols, figures and institutions. This extreme language gained supporters especially after exaggerated information spread and the pictures of the victims were broadcasted and circulated. Many people failed to distinguish between wise political rhetoric and plausible demands and extreme rhetoric. It is surprising that some of the protesters were the same persons who carried the car of his Majesty the King in celebration of the reforms.

It is worth noting that during a sedition and tense political atmosphere, many unbelievable things take place. Anyone familiar with psychology knows this to be the case. Enforcing the law is very important in order to regain calm and stability. Strict accountability on the other hand, will involve tens of thousands of people, which is difficult to do and will not help the country return to normal. Many mistakes have been made by all political parties and the Government needs to turn a blind eye to small breaches and emphasize stability and security.

Not all Shia citizens wanted to overthrow the regime and those that have called for overthrowing the regime now realise that they had made a big mistake. Punishing everyone who was involved in the sedition is impractical and will only complicate the situation and incite political and sectarian conflict.

The Shia citizens are an important component of Bahraini social fabric and are keen to protect their national identity and national unity. It is wrong to view them in one colour because they represent different political ideas. Cultural, political and religious diversity exists in the Shia community and to stereotype is unfair and violates human rights.

It is not wrong to demand more freedoms because the reform project was destined to produce new reforms and a desire for greater freedom. The question is how this can be achieved and through what means and mechanisms? Raising national slogans during the protests was not wrong. The purpose was not to promote Shia demands. The demands were made by political parties and each party bear responsibility for its actions. The average citizen should not bear any responsibility unless they were responsible for violence and vandalism.

All religions stress the fact that each person is responsible for his or her own actions. This is something that all laws and the international human rights instruments agree on. Using collective punishment that humiliates and punishes citizens based on their affiliation is wrong.

Unfortunately, many political figures, journalists and elites have been dragged into the sectarian trap and social division. This is what the King in his article in Washington Times warned against as did the Crown Prince, in a recent speech. The use of sectarian language is very damaging. It may serve its purpose for a short period of time but is a double–edged sword. Sectarianism is a divisive tool that destroys government institutions, weakens loyalty and national identity, undermines the safety of the country, paves the way for foreign interference and empowers religious figures against the authority and sovereignty of the State.