Citizens for Bahrain special feature: Understanding patterns of violence in Bahrain Ten case studies of victims of the disturbances
5th July, 2012
As families of victims of the violence receive compensation and trials continue for police accused of abuses, this is a useful time to look at events in Bahrain since 14 February 2011 and tragic losses of life. In stark contrast with Syria where thousands were killed at the hands of security forces, the Bahrain death toll was far lower – the BICI report found 35 fatalities – a mixture of protesters, civilians, police and expat workers.
The account below uses the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry [BICI] as a major source. The BICI found that of these 35 deaths, 12 were shot by security forces; five victims were themselves security personnel; four were foreign workers, six were due to physical injury or torture; and in eight cases the perpetrators couldn’t be identified. This is different from the impression the opposition seeks to convey of “indiscriminate brutality” by police; particularly as police officers have been put on trial where excessive force was judged to have been used. The BICI attributed just nine deaths as instances of “excessive force”.
1) First fatality: Ali al-Mushaima
Mushaima died on the first major day of protests, 14 February 2011, as police struggled to disperse a protest in Daih. According to the official account cited by the BICI: “Six police officers were surrounded and attacked by approximately 500 demonstrators. Police officers used rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The demonstrators were aggressive and were throwing rocks towards the police officers. The police officers exhausted their supply of rubber bullets and tear gas. They then resorted to shotguns.”
Ali’s death was widely publicized by protesters, with him being described as a martyr. Mushaima’s funeral, the following day in Jidhafs attracted a crowd of 1,000. As protesters attending the funeral passed two police cars, one broken down, they focused their rage on the policemen, at first with verbal abuse, then by throwing rocks and assault with metal rods.
According to the BICI: “The seven police personnel at the location began responding to the mourners using sound bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Then, according to MoI [Ministry of Interior] reports, the mourners became aggressive and came within metres of the police patrol and managed to seize and destroy one of the police’s tear gas launchers. At this point, after all other ammunition had been exhausted, police are reported to have fired two shotgun rounds at the mourners, after which they evacuated the location.” During this battle Fadel Matrouk was also killed, his “martyrdom” being used to further escalate anger among protesters.
2) Deaths as Pearl Roundabout is cleared
After several days of occupation of Pearl Roundabout – a major road junction – by protesters, the decision was taken on 17 February 2011 to restore order. The operation was planned for early morning to minimize the need for force. After calls by megaphone to leave the roundabout, security forces moved in and removed demonstrators, their tents and other materials. Once the majority had departed, a hardcore refused to leave.
According to BICI: Protesters “began resisting and assaulting the police, using stones, rocks, metal rods, swords, and sharp objects. Reports indicate that a number of protestors attempted to run over police officers with cars. Police responded by firing tear gas, rubber bullets and shotgun rounds.” During this chaos police fatally shot Mahmood Abutaki, Ali Khudair; and Ali Ahmed – the largest loss of life during the disturbances. These killings are particularly regrettable as they further radicalized and mobilized the protest movement, which used these “martyrs” to arouse popular anger. Interior Ministry personnel face charges over these incidents, including three officers whose charges have just been intensified from manslaughter to murder.
3) Targeting South Asian workers
Expat workers tragically fell victims to the violence by both being caught up in disturbances and being specifically targeted. There is evidence that extremist elements within the opposition saw forcing an exodus of foreign workers as a means of further pressuring the Government. The Bahrain Human Rights Watch society documented hundreds of such cases of attacks on South Asian workers (see above photo), blaming an “organised group within the anti-government movement”.
Regarding the murder of Abdul Malik Rasool, a Pakistani national on 13 March 2011, the BICI report cites the finding that “a gang carrying metal bars and knives attacked a group of Pakistanis living in a building in Naeem. One group surrounded the entrance to the building, while a second group broke down the door, entered the building and assaulted the residents. The residents who managed to escape the building were met by the group waiting at the entrance to the building. This group beat the deceased to death.” The case of Fareed Maqbul on 19 March is very similar. In total, four South Asians lost their lives during the BICI report period.
4) Deaths from torture
There were five deaths attributed by the BICI report to torture and several security forces personnel have subsequently been investigated and put on trial. According to the BICI report: “The MoI investigation into the death of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer has resulted in the prosecution of five individuals. On 25 May 2011, the MoI referred charges of manslaughter against two MoI personnel to a military court. A further three MoI personnel have been charged with failing to report this crime. The Commission concludes that this death is attributable to Mr Saqar’s mistreatment while in custody.”
Zakariya al-Ashiri worked for a local blog news website in Al-Dair. He was killed on April 9, 2011 while in custody of the Bahraini Government. The BICI report attributed his death to torture and the MoI investigation his death resulted in the prosecution of five individuals. In early 2012 a new police Code of Conduct was issued, reiterating the absolute prohibition of torture in Bahrain.
5) Attacks against security forces
Hundreds of security forces personnel have been injured over the past 18 months, many as a result of assault by iron bars, rocks, or firebombs. Ahmed Al Muraysi, Kashif Mandhour and Mohammed Abdulsamad were killed within 24 hours of each other (15-16 March 2011) all intentionally killed by cars driven by protesters, as the protests took an increasingly violent and sectarian turn. All three incidents were judged by the BICI report to be intentional killings by protesters; one of the protesters who confessed to the killing of the latter two officers claimed that it was in retaliation to the death of a relative.
6) Hit by tear gas canister
Ali Jawad al-Sheikh died following a protest in Sitra on 31 August 2011. The cause of his death was disputed, but BICI investigators judged that his death was attributable to being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired at close range. His family circulated a video of Ali’s dead body. The video was described by opposition leader Nabeel Rajab as “a gift to the people”, and his funeral was followed by widespread protests and rioting and unsuccessful attempts to retake Pearl Roundabout.
Fadel al-Obeidi died in similar circumstances, during a 9 March 2012 mass protest called for by Ayatollah Issa Qassim. Ali and Fadel’s deaths are remarkable because they are increasingly rare instances of deaths during protests following police retraining for managing rioting and protests more humanely. These two deaths resulting from tear gas canisters raised the issue of how tear gas was deployed.
7) Sunni victim of protests
Zahra Saleh died on 7 December 2011, three weeks after an iron rod became embedded in her skull during a protest in Al-Daih. Because of her Shia-sounding name, she was initially hailed by the opposition as a victim of police brutality.
However, Zahra – actually a Sunni woman – was able to confirm that she was returning from work, trying to avoid the rioting near her home, when hit by the iron bar hurled by protestors.
8) Drive by shooting?
Ahmed Ismael was shot at a protest in Salamabad on 31 March 2012. According to eyewitnesses he was taking photos of the protest when he was shot from a civilian car, which raised suspicions that the assailants were militants hostile to the protest movement. Ahmed’s death came during a period when there had been very few opposition casualties during protests; therefore his “martyrdom” was exploited to the full. Because he was taking photos, opposition and Iranian media outlets highlighted him as a “citizen journalist”.
Ahmed’s funeral was deliberately delayed for a fortnight until the eve of the Manama Grand Prix, in order that the global media could attend and witness rallies to commemorate Ahmed’s “martyrdom”. During the funeral radicalized youths pelted the police with firebombs.
9) Tear gas casualties?
Since the BICI report in November 2011 the opposition movement, the BCHR and Iranian media outlets have alleged numerous fatalities from what they describe as “excessive use of tear gas”. The deaths quoted by these 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.
According to the opposition BCHR’s own statistics of Bahrain’s “martyrs” one youth accidently burnt himself to death while setting fire to tires; and another woman committed suicide following depression – attributed to the traumatic impact of the disturbances. Isn’t it stretching the point to describe these as martyrs?
Therefore, over a period where the police have increasingly succeeded in peaceably managing riots and protests, the opposition has resorted to inflating the casualty figures to create a false impression of what is happening in Bahrain – as if nobody is dying a natural death in opposition strongholds. While it is important that tear gas is used with restraint, tear gas is arguably the most humane means the police have to defend themselves and maintain civil order with when attacked by rioters and pelted with firebombs.
10) Loyalist “martyr”
18 year-old Ahmed al-Dhafeeri was fatally injured on 18 April 2012 when trying to clear tyres placed by protesters near his home in Hamed Town. The tyres were booby-trapped with an explosive device which exploded in his face. Ahmed was transferred to Jordan for treatment but died on 7 June as a result of the terrible burns.
Ahmed’s family have been lobbying the Government to take action against what they call “terrorist leaders” of the opposition for sanctioning and encouraging such activity. Ahmed’s story has particularly aroused sympathy within loyalist and Sunni communities because he died while trying to prevent acts of sabotage and vandalism.