Bahrain Weekly Update 7/28/17

Top Stories

President Trump Nominates New U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain

Ebtisam Al-Saegh Charged under Anti-Terrorism Law

New Visa Allows Migrants to Work without Sponsors

60 to be Tried on Terrorism Charges

Updates from Bahrain

President Trump Nominates New U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain: This week, PresidentDonald Trump nominated Justin Siberell to be the new U.S. ambassador to Bahrain. Siberell is currently the Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State, and will replace Ambassador William Roebuck, if confirmed by the Senate. He has also served the State Department in various positions in Amman, Baghdad, and Egypt.

Ebtisam al-Saegh Charged with Terrorism: On July 19, detained human rights activistEbtisam al-Saegh was formally charged under Bahrain’s anti-terrorism law. According to the state-run Bahrain News Agency, “Chief of Terror Crime Prosecution Advocate GeneralAhmed al-Hammadi said that an investigation had been launched in the case of the formation of an illegal organization with the aim of stalling the law, preventing the state from exercising its responsibilities, assaulting personal freedom and harming national unity.”

Al-Saegh has been held without charge for several weeks, with many concerned that she is suffering torture and mistreatment. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement the day before she was charged urging the state to investigate al-Saegh’s claims of torture and rumors of her deteriorating condition under detention.

Labor Regulatory Authority Launches Flexible Work Permits: Early this month, the Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) announced the launch of flexible work permits, which will allow workers to enter Bahrain as their own sponsors. The new permits represent a change to the controversial kafala system, common across the GCC. Under kafala, foreign workers must be sponsored by their employers to enter the country, meaning employers are solely responsible for their employees while they are working in the country. This has led to considerable exploitation of workers, including withholding passports and wages, poor working conditions, and abuse.

With the new flexible work permits, migrant workers in sectors other than hospitality can now serve as their own sponsors for an initial payment of 449 BD ($1191.14) and monthly payments of 30 BD ($79.59). According to the head of the LMRA, “Through this system, we are changing and evolving the labor reform structure in the country.” While the new permits are distinct from the kafala system itself, which is administered by the Ministry of the Interior, they create a new pathway for migrant workers in the country without sponsors to take control of their legal status. Migrant Rights, an advocacy group, calls the new option “a much needed and much sought after safety valve for many workers,” but cautions that its scope is limited.

Court to Try 60 Defendants on Terror Charges: On Wednesday, July 26, the High Criminal Court charged 60 unnamed suspects of “forming and joining a terrorist organization, while they were aware of its terrorist purposes, training on the use of weapons and explosives to carry out terrorist attacks, deliberately murdering policemen and importing and possessing explosives, firearms and ammunition.” The state-run Bahrain News Agency (BNA) lists stealing a speed boat loaded with machine guns and explosives, carrying out a jailbreak of Jau prison, killing police, and attempting to flee the country, among the crimes. BNA also suggested the defendants’ alleged terror organization has links to the IRGC and other Iranian proxies.

Thirty-six of the defendants have been detained, while the remaining 24 are being charged in absentia, as some are said to be at large within the Kingdom, as well as Iran, Iraq, and Germany. Prosecutor Ahmad Al-Hamadi has set their trial date for August 22.

Controversial Family Law Passed: On July 19, King Hamad ratified a renewed Family Law. The ratification sparked controversy from Bahrain’s Shia majority, as the King failed to consult Shia religious authorities before passing the law. On July 16, scores took to the streets to protest the Shura Council’s passage of the law, and outrage has mounted since the law was ratified. The new law updates the longstanding Family Law, which did not apply to Shia courts in the country. According to Human Rights Watch, the law discriminates against women, Sunni and Shia alike.

Prime Minister Calls for Cutting Public Expenditure: Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa issued directives to all government agencies to limit spending earlier this month. The directives follow the passage of a fiscal year 2018 budget clearly aimed at reigning in spending in the wake of falling oil rents. According to a recent report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Bahrain is one of the riskiest markets in the GCC, owing to its unwieldy fiscal deficit.