The opposition throughout the three-year crisis has been unashamed of deliberately falsifying statistics, in order to back-up its thesis of “bloody repression”.
For a brief period during late 2011 and early 2012 we saw the phenomenon of the “tear gas casualties”. Around thirty of the deaths that the opposition society, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, had added to its list of “martyrs” were supposedly victims of “excessive use of tear gas”.
Nobody denies that in certain circumstances, use of large quantities of tear gas in an enclosed space can be dangerous for someone with severe respiratory difficulties. But a closer look at the statistics made it clear what was going on: Several of the people on the BCHR’s list had been in hospital for several weeks before they died and the hospitals had attributed normal causes of death. Several of these “martyrs” were between 70 and 90 years-old and several were suffering from a variety of debilitating conditions like epilepsy and sickle cell anaemia. In many cases there was no clear association with tear gas use at all.
The truth was that for a period, it was convenient for the opposition to add anyone who died to their tally of “martyrs”; apparently because the security forces were stubbornly refusing to provide any new martyrs.
Martyr killed in his own bomb-making factory
We should also note that the opposition’s list of “victims” of the unrest also conveniently included members of the security forces; expat workers killed by opposition militants; civilians caught up in the unrest; and those killed by explosive devices planted by opposition terrorists.
So when the opposition talks about over 100 people killed during the entire course of the unrest; half of those had no association with the opposition; and many had no link to the unrest at all.
This is not to say that actions of the security forces have not resulted in deaths. The BICI report, for example documents several cases where protesters were killed as a result of police action in the early days of the unrest and there have been occasional incidents over the last two years, such as a protester being killed by a tear gas canister and an incident where a protester was killed in a drive-by shooting.
More recently, the opposition designated one person as a martyr when he blew himself up in his own bomb-making factory; there was a further martyr who died when the explosives he was carrying exploded; and the most recent martyr who according to the Interior Ministry’s account died during a police operation against smugglers of explosives and weapons. Do you notice a pattern developing here?
Radicalizing & exploiting impressionable youngsters
A further opposition tactic has been to make copious use of young boys, often aged between eight and 13 for building road-blocks, throwing rocks and Molotovs at police and for being on the frontline during rioting. When these brainwashed young people are sometimes taken into custody, the opposition shouts about human rights abuses, “arbitrary arrests” and the rights of minors; while failing to recognize their own role in radicalizing and exploiting impressionable youngsters.
There have been two other “martyrs” in recent months. Fifty-two year-old Asma Hussein died of a heart-attack. Opposition group Al-Wefaq Islamic Society claimed that Asma died after “terror-inspiring raids” near her home and declared her a “martyr”. As a result, thousands of rioters turned up at her funeral and used it as an excuse to attack the police with petrol-bombs and makeshift weapons.
In Al-Wefaq’s highly inflammatory statement they reminded the world that “The martyr Asma is not the first victim to die of such terrorism, Aziza Khamis died in April 2011 after her house was raided. Mr. Abdul Ghani Rayyis also died of depression and stress after the authorities refused to let him see his detained son.”
On 27 February 2014 Jaffar Mohammed Jaffar died at a medical centre of complications related to sickle cell anaemia. Within a couple of hours, Al-Wefaq was declaring Jaffar a “martyr” on Twitter and claiming that he had died as a result of torture. The Independent Ombudsman is investigating his case.
Even when there are genuinely suspicious circumstances associated with a fatality; Al-Wefaq should recognize that there are serious consequences to rushing out and declare people martyrs. At the very least; the result is several days of violent rioting and then a funeral where hundreds of angry people turn up with iron bars and milk-crates of Molotov Cocktails, with the explicit intention of attacking the police.
In such circumstances it is inevitable that people will get hurt. It is a miracle – and testimony to police professionalism – that greater numbers haven’t. In the event, this explains why over 2,500 police have been injured over this period.
Ten police have died during the last three years of unrest. The number of protesters injured in such skirmishes also decreased greatly, despite the increasingly violent pattern of rioting across protest hotspots, and despite hundreds of police being hospitalized over this period.
At best some of these opposition societies are criminally reckless by placing large numbers of people in confrontational situations for no good reason. However, the consequences are graver than this; the opposition’s propaganda and outright lies have done terrible harm to Bahrain’s society, economy and reputation.
Sectarian hatred and social tensions
There should be wider recognition among the international media and NGOs who often take the opposition’s information at face value that many of their claims are knowingly dishonest and disingenuous. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has never been a genuine human rights organization, it is an active part of the opposition and key figures like Abdelhadi al-Khawaja have their roots in the Iran-backed Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, which staged attempted coups in the 1980s and sought to destabilize the country during the 1990s. The BCHR itself has acknowledged Al-Khawaja’s former links in its own publicity material.
By radicalizing and inciting impressionable young people, the opposition has given rise to sectarian hatred and social tensions that will take a generation to address and we urgently require a comprehensive programme of social reconciliation to address the damage done.
As a result, it is not surprising that substantial parts of Bahrain’s society are skeptical about prospects for Dialogue, considering the dishonest and violent tactics adopted by the opposition. Groups like Al-Wefaq must come to recognize how counterproductive such tactics are for their own credibility as a legitimate partner in the political process. We hope that the opposition acknowledges this and soon, before further harm is done to Bahrain’s society.