Bahrain, reversing reform, restores arrest powers to spies

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2017 11:30 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain announced on Thursday that it has restored the power of its domestic spy service to make some arrests, reversing a key reform recommended in the wake of the crackdown that followed the country's 2011 Arab Spring protests.

The decree affecting its National Security Agency comes as Bahrain is in the midst of a renewed clampdown on dissent. It also follows an armed assault on a prison that killed a police officer and freed 10 inmates.

The decision came in decree, announced by the state-run Bahrain News Agency. It described the decision as making the arrest powers "limited" to terrorism cases, though it was in fact restoring them.

The royal decree was made "in view of the high risk of terror crimes, which necessitates prompt action to thwart plots, halt their impact, gather evidence and arrest the culprits," the report said.

However, terrorism allegations have been levied against activists and protesters in the past. Bahrain's government did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press about the decision.

Activists immediately warned the move would create an environment that allows security service abuses to flourish.

"Today's decision makes it clear that Bahrain has turned its back unapologetically against human rights," said Husain Abdulla, the executive director of Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain

The National Security Agency was created in 2002, replacing the country's feared General Directorate for State Security. It gained arrest powers by royal decree in 2008.

Limiting the agency's powers was a main recommendation made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the 2011 protests and subsequent crackdown. Another royal decree after the protests stripped the agency of its arrest powers.

The commission linked the agency to the systematic torture and raids conducted after the protests, which saw the island's Shiite majority and others demand more political freedom from the country's Sunni rulers. Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ultimately helped put down the protests.

Bahrain, a small island off the Arabian Peninsula that's home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base, launched a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent in April. It's seen authorities imprison some prominent political figures and force others into exile.

On Sunday, gunmen armed with automatic rifles and pistols stormed Bahrain's Jaw prison, killing a police officer and freeing 10 inmates convicted on terrorism charges. In the time since, police have stepped up checkpoints and patrols, but have yet to announce the recapture any of those who escaped.

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