A UN human rights official has expressed concerns at the rising number of deaths reported from tear gas in Bahrain. This is something that should concern Bahraini citizens, particularly as – according to the figures – many of these people died in their own homes.
Media reports accuse the Bahraini police of firing tear gas in enclosed spaces or using it excessively – a serious charge at a time when the Government is making progress on other fronts to implement the Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) recommendations.
However, looking at the statistics on which these claims were based, my confusion increased. A main source is the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – I’d hope the UN realizes that this is a major opposition grouping, not an impartial observer.
Another set of statistics are held by the presumably more credible Physicians for Human Rights organization. However, if you inquire about their sources; they turn out to be other organizations (largely BCHR) or the media (Press TV being the main media reporting on such issues).
The curious thing is that the number of alleged deaths from tear gas, according to these sources, has increased to around six each month for 2012; while the statistics claimed 0-2 tear gas related deaths for most of 2011. Why the sudden epidemic of victims?
Over the same period, only one person seems to been killed as a direct result of the protests since the beginning of the year (Mirza Fadl al-Obeidy, 1 March, reportedly hit by tear gas canister).
Such a transformation of the security forces’ record is mainly the result of significant improvements in their ability to manage large protests with restraint and calm following retraining and new guidelines.
The deaths quoted by these organizations’ statistics include numerous people who died a matter of weeks after they supposedly inhaled the tear gas; several where there were disputes between the doctor, the family and the authorities about the cause of death; a few severely injured since the events last year; and a number with complications related to asthma or genetic illnesses.
In conclusion there are few cases uncontrovertibly attributable to tear gas.
We know that – if you take Press TV and Al-Alam TV seriously – there have been no natural deaths in Bahrain over the last year, and everybody who died in their sleep has been highlighted by these Iranian propaganda channels as “martyrs of the barbaric Saudi-backed regime in Manama”.
We hope that – given the uncharitable failure of the Bahraini security forces to provide the opposition with real martyrs in recent months – organizations like the BCHR haven’t taken to the same propagandistic methods of logging anyone who dies as a “tear gas victim”.
According to the BCHR’s own statistics one youth burnt himself to death while burning tires and another woman committed suicide following depression – attributed to the traumatic impact of the disturbances.
A difficult question has to be asked here; the opposition has chosen to restrict its activities increasingly to opposition strongholds; villages like Sehla, Muqsha and Sitra. Did hardliner opposition leaders ever question the terrible impact that their activities would have on their own communities? Many of these villages were already poor and underdeveloped, but they’ve now become hotbeds for daily tire-burning sessions, continual confrontations with the police, vandalism, roadblocks and radicalization of the young.
What must it be like for children being brought up in such an atmosphere where they are encouraged to make Molotovs and participate in roadblocks and violent disturbances; or where their parents tell visiting TV channels how proud they’d be for their children to become martyrs.
Where the police forces have been heavy-handed they should be held to account, but if a 75 year-old pensioner or an unborn baby die in traumatic circumstances where tear gas has been used, is there a degree to which the opposition themselves are culpable for bringing such suffering upon the weakest in their society? At what point did the unborn baby or aged woman consent to putting their lives at risk in the cause of bringing down the Government?
In the final instance, we request clarity from the authorities. Following implementation of the BICI’s recommendations we expect transparency over such incidents: What happened and who should be held accountable. If nothing else, so that the opposition time after time can’t be the only side making its case to the international community with the aim of blackening the name of Bahrain.