THERE has been mixed reaction to new rules requiring political organisations to inform the government of any overseas communication.
While opposition groups have condemned the move, others say it will prevent foreign diplomats from interfering in Bahrain’s internal affairs.
A ministerial decree issued on Tuesday states the government should be informed three days before a Bahraini political society seeks a meeting with a foreign embassy, government body or any overseas political entity.
It stipulated that such meetings could only take place in co-ordination with the Foreign Ministry and in the presence of someone delegated by the ministry.
Western diplomats have been accused of meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs by holding meetings with leaders of Bahrain’s opposition groups.
However, the National Unity Assembly (NUA) – which was formed in 2011 to counter the political opposition – welcomed the new rules, which were issued by Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa.
They have been added to a law governing political societies and NUA secretary-general Abdulla Al Howaihi told the GDN it would end unwanted interference in local affairs.
“For years, diplomats have misused their powers by interfering in Bahrain’s affairs and they enjoyed easy access to individuals and political societies without restrictions,” he said.
“In my opinion, this is a good decision that will stop diplomats from getting biased or false information from groups while at the same time, monitor political societies.”
Mr Al Howaihi said he was happy for a Foreign Ministry representative to attend any meetings that took place with foreign diplomats.
“Especially in the present situation, we do not want anyone to misuse the open door policy of Bahrain,” he said.
However, opposition groups have opposed the decision and described it as a step backwards.
“This decision does not support the reform process and stops political societies carrying out their duties,” claimed Democratic Progressive Tribune (Al Taqadumy) secretary-general Abdulnabi Salman.
He said political societies had already contacted foreign embassies in Bahrain to brief officials on the latest development, which he alleged contradicted the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“We will take up this issue for discussion during the main session of the National Dialogue next week, which will be chaired by three government officials including the Justice Minister,” he added.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society argued that diplomats had a right to meet non-governmental organisations, political societies and other groups to listen to their opinions – also claiming the decision restricted freedoms.
The newly formed Al Fateh Youth Coalition (FYC) – a breakaway group from the NUA – also opposed the new rules.
“Political societies in Bahrain played a major role during the 2011 crisis to tell the world what our country was facing,” said FYC spokesman Yacoub Al Slaise.
“We exposed the truth to all the diplomats in Bahrain, which helped them convey the right message to their respective governments.”
He said the new rule restricted privacy and argued it was unnecessary – highlighting the case of a former US Embassy political affairs officer Ludovic Hood, who was recalled in May 2011 amid allegations that he was too close to anti-government activists. “This case shows that the Bahrain government has proper channels to deal with diplomatic interference in local affairs, rather than curtailing the rights of political societies,” he said.
By SANDEEP SINGH GREWAL , In Gulf Daily News