Experimenting in Mapping Online Anti-Shia Sectarianism on Twitter in the Middle East

ballsWouldn’t it be interesting to see if sectarianism itself was more dominant in one place than an other, at least online? Are some countries/cities more sectarian than others? Is sectarianism a localised phenomenon, despite what we might see in the news? If we knew this, we could then highlight where to prioritize tackling it.

Methods

In  order to do this, I conducted an preliminary experiment. Firstly, I would require some way of trying to determine where a piece of sectarian discourse came from. I decided to locate sectarian tweets, as often Twitter accounts come with information about location.

I thought I’d approach ‘anti-Shia’ sectarianism, as the terminology is familiar, and more prevalent (See Alexandra Seigel’s work). I will be doing the same with ‘anti-Sunni’ Tweets too. (I should add, for the record, that I find the terms somewhat grotesque, as the nature of sectarianism cannot be reduced to a binary). Hopefully though, locating the geographic prevalence of specific discourses challenges the problems of essentialising sectarianism as a monolithic and ubiquitous muslim-wide global issue.

Anyway, to test/experiment with this method, I extracted approximately 10,000 tweets that ranged over a four day period (8th – 12th May 2017). These tweets contained at least one of the following, commonly used derogatory terms referring to Shia.

Twitter Search Rule: “ابناء المتعة” OR “روافض” OR “رافضة” OR “اولاد المتعة” OR “مجوسي” OR “المجوسي” OR “صفوي”

The terms largely relate to religious-sectarianism, such as Rafida, Awlad/Ibna al-Muta’, Majusi and Safavid (although this one could be more contested). The archiver, theoretically, takes an ‘almost’ random sample of Tweets from Twitter (see Wang et al for sampling info).

To determine the location of the Tweeter, I did not use the geodata (as this is rarely used by ppl), but information input by the user themselves on their Twitter account.  Of course there is no way of knowing if this is accurate or not, but for the sake of this analysis, we must assume a significant amount are true.  After filtering out erroneous names, such as people who claim to live in Hogwarts, we were left with around 4500 usable tweets from the original 10,000 tweet sample. I then ran these tweets into Tableau, filtering out duplicate entries (i.e. multiple tweets from the same account). This resulted in about 3,640 unique tweets from unique accounts.

Visualizations

Using Tableau, I first created a cloropeth map that shows the prevalence of sectarian tweets across the region. In the below map, red means a  higher prevalence. As you can see, Saudi Arabia and Egypt appear the reddest, and are the places with the highest number of sectarian tweets in this sample.

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Prevalence of Arabic Language Anti Shia Discourse Across Arab World

Yet the above map suggests Egypt and Saudi are alike in terms of tweets. However, the below diagram gives a breakdown of the numbers of tweets, while the surface area of each block represents the proportion of Tweets emanating from each country. As we can see, Saudi Arabia takes the crown with 1,656 Tweets. It is followed by Egypt (420), Kuwait (111), Iraq (71), UAE (56), Yemen (50), Syria (38), Bahrain (36) and Qatar (25) and then Lebanon. (It is worth noting that all countries returned positive hits).

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Diagram showing countries with largest number of sectarian tweets

These figures haven’t been controlled for population, or Twitter penetration, the latter of which is difficult to determine (furthermore, figures from the Arab Social Media reports  are perhaps distorted by a large number of bots). Nonetheless, if we are to use these figures from the Arab Social Media Report 2017, we can see that in Egypt that for every 3089 Twitter users, there is one sectarian tweet. In Saudi, there is one sectarian Tweet for 1570 Twitter Users. For Kuwait, as another example, there is one sectarian tweet for every 4504 Twitter users. Thus crudely speaking, the results do not balance out when considering Twitter users, meaning that according to this data, the country with the larger amount of tweets are still the ‘more sectarian’.

More detail

Where possible, I added latitude and longitude points for location input by users. This allowed me to create a map that shows a more detailed breakdown of Twitter users. As you can see from the below map, Arabic, anti-Shia sectarian Tweets are focused on the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt, with the majority occurring in Saudi, specifically Riyadh, Jeddah, and clusters along the Eastern Province. Northern Egypt is also particularly interesting with regards to the amount of discourse.

 

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Anti Shia Sectarian Hate Tweets by Specific Locale (where possible)

Indeed, it would appear from this map, that sectarian discourses online radiate outwards from the middle of Saudi. Of course Riyadh and Jeddah are Saudi’s most populace cities, so it may not be significant in this regard, yet it is interesting to see that Saudi appears to be the centre of this discourse. Also, the rhetoric is almost non-existent across the rest of North Africa and Sudan. It is also not very common in Oman.

The data then, could suggest a number of things:

Online anti-Shia sectarianism are most prevalent in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Such discourses originated in the Gulf and have traveled abroad

Such discourses are much less common outside the Arabian Peninsula, where there are mixed populations with different histories of national struggle

Of course some potential caveats:

Lexically speaking, the terms used for this study may just be a preferred choice used by those Arabic speakers in the peninsula. Sectarianism in other languages other than Arabic would be interesting to explore in a similar way. Similarly, Arabs in others parts of the ME may use different terms, although I am not sure this is the case.

As yet it’s not sure whether long term analysis would yield similar results. Short term, similar sized samples I have done on individual words or phrases leading up to this blog have returned identical results. Inevitably, a longer sample would mostly likely return more and more sectarian tweets from every country outside the Gulf. As these would also likely increase across every country, the proportionality of sectarian tweets would still likely stay the same.

Similar ways of finding other platforms to analyse would be useful, e.g. Instagram and FB. (Although not sure if people would be inclined to be less or more sectarian on different platforms).

To be clear this is not stating sectarianism does not occur everywhere, just maybe that it is more common in some places than others.

 

 

 

A Personal History of Trolling

Bahrain in 2011, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. J/k, but it’s always fun to use a Star Wars quote. Am I right?Anyway, was going through some old notes and found multiple instances of all the trolling, harassment, or cyberbullying I faced over the past few years. This is very ‘normal’ if you’re critical of the Bahraini goverment, and I thought it would be good to compile some of them into a blog for people to read.

From being threatened with rape, to being impersonated in the letters page of the local paper, I’ve organzed them according to theme and genre, so you don’t have to!

The ‘gay’ insults, including one from someone who is radio DJ on Bahrain National Radio.

The rape threats (including one against my mum)

The vulgar…

The generally libelous about  being a paid stooge

The impersonators:

Or that time someone pretended to be and won the star letter award in the local newspaper for writing an article praising the Bahrain regime. (I am still waiting on that prize)..You can read more here.

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All the caricatures

Let’s not forget the the drawings of me, carried out by the anonymous @WatchBahrain

 

The unauthorised biography

When this website trawled the internet for anything about me, and concluded that not only was I a cyber narcissist, but also a failed musician and actor….(Read the full piece here).

 

Marc Owen Jones – What Are You Bahrain Views

The time I was called a troll (threat level ‘orange’)…

To be fair, this one says I have an ‘irresistible’ smile, but my troll threat level was orange. Also, this one argued that I would attempt to seduce you by singing in Arabic…

Please don_t feed these trolls… Bahrain Views

The time I was accused of attempting to hack the person who ran the above website…

After the above posts about me and other Bahrain activists, I was accused of illegal activity…

Back to Back stabbing Trolling Bahrain Views

The time I was accused of belonging to a media ‘cell’ designed to harm Bahrain’s reputation…

 

mnarfezhomlies

“الاول : فهد ديشمك باكستاني الجنسية كان في البحرين وذويه مازالوا هنا حيث أن أبيه يعمل في البحرين منذ فترة طويلة، هذا الشخص حسابه في تويتر هو @chanadbh وهذا الشخص يعمل لدى مركز البحرين لحقوق الإنسان التابع لنبيل رجب ويعمل كتف بكتف مع مريم الخواجة بل أحيانا تطلب منه السفر لدول معينة وحضور مؤتمرات ومنتديات بالنيابة عنها، بدأ حملته التشويهية على البحرين منذ عام 2004 تقريبا، وعندما تقدم بطلب للجنسية البحرينية وأثناء فترة تقدمه للطلب كان يقود حملة أكاذيب وتشويه على البحرين في المدونات والإنترنت. فاكتشفت وزارة الداخلية أمره ورحلته من البحرين، وظيفته الحالية هو تقديم الإسناد لمركز البحرين لحقوق الإنسان، والتواصل مع الإعلام الخارجي خصوصا في محيطه لتشويه سمعة البحرين، وكذلك كتابة المقالات في الإنترنت ضد البحرين مع تحريف الحقائق، أيضا هو ينسق مع الخلية الإعلامية في بريطانيا والتي تقاد من @se25a @marcowenjones وينسق كذلك مع الخلية الإعلامية في أمريكا تحت قيادة @alphaleah”

Iran-backed plotters need to get their shit together: Iran plots through the ages

It has become a well worn and familiar trope in Bahrain, ‘Government foil Iran-backed plot’. Usually when there’s a bout of unrest, dozens are arrested and most miraculously ‘confess’ to being part of the plot. Most of the plots involve the conspirators stockpiling guns and weapons and confessing. There have also been plenty of fake news stories about non-existent dows heading to Bahrain to bring weapons. Ironically, when Bahrainis aren’t smuggling weapons into Bahrain they are attempting to take weapons out of Bahrain back to Iran. Naturally this begs the question, can’t all these Iranian agents decide if they’re trying to flea Bahrain or overthrow the regime? Whereas I am being ironic, presumably the Bahraini government are just being liberal with the truth….

Some news stories about Iran-backed plots, 1981, 1996, 2014, 2017

Below are a few news clippings from various papers about Iran-backed plots. This is not exhaustive, just a flavour.

In 1981, roughly 65 people were arrested for being part of a coup attempt backed by Iran. At least 52 confessed.

1981

In 1996, another Iranian-backed plot was discovered. Not only were they trained in Iran, but apparently they reported directly to Iran’s leader, Ali Khamenei! Of the 44 Bahrainis, 34 confessed to being behind the plot. Apparently they were also tasked with gathering information on US forces in Bahrain (not sure how this works exactly, dressing up like Uncle Sam and striding into a nightclub frequented by US marines?)

1996quote

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A few plots have been unearthed since 2011. In 2014, more confessions were extracted about an Iran backed plot. Like the 1981 plot, this was led by Hadi al-Mudarrasi.

2014

In March 2017, the authorities have announced yet another Iran-backed plot. Again, these guys were trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and Hezbollah. Yet again, the authorities seized bombs and automatic weapons. The evidence also implicated people in the Feb bomb blast. (Presumably if you are planning an assassination attempt, you carry out low level bomb attacks to draw attention to yourself first, oh yeah, and like with the other occasions, you rarely use the automatic weapons). Expect confessions soon….

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Another Death in Bahrain Raises Accusations of Foul Play

Yesterday morning, 22 year old Abdullah Al Ajooz died in Nuwaidrat. The Ministry of the Interior reported that he fell when he tried to flee the scene of the arrest. Abdullah was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison after being accused of being involved in terrorist activities that included the injuring of three policemen. He escaped from the Dry Docks in 2016.  As is usual, the MOI did not feel it necessary to provide much detail,  leaving people to speculate as the actual cause of Abdullah’s death. It is important to note that Abdullah is the 4th escaped prisoner to have been killed after coming into contact with the MOI. The other three were allegedly killed at sea in suspicious circumstances. As many Bahrainis know, it is important always to question the official narrative in Bahrain, as the MOI have previously lied about systematic torture. This is not to say that the MOI do not to tell the truth, but there is little evidence to suggest there has been a change in policing or political culture. It is therefore somewhat perverse then to not interrogate the official narrative (unless of course you, like my Twitter trolls, take pleasure in the deaths of people).

Abdullah’s Death

Initial reports stated that Abdullah had been shot, with his aunt being recorded saying he had bullet wounds in the head and chest. This story seemed very unlikely when images of the body revealed no visible bullet wounds. From the images of his body though, there is clear head trauma on the front right hand side.

The below photos of the building show that he fellow from a relatively low height. The shrine on the ground is where the body was found.

The images would suggest he landed on his head. Some have highlighted that the height is relatively low (certainly no more than 10m), and seem surprised by the nature of the traumatic injuries. Ebrahim Sharif,  a prominent political figure in Bahrain , who saw the body before burial, asked whether he should have fallen on his head, not hands or feet.

In the below tweet, Ebrahim Sharif also noted that an attempt to flee would be unusual if the house was surrounded.

Yet a fall of two stories, or less than two metres, perhaps surprisingly, frequently results in traumatic head injuries. According to one study, heights from falls less than 10 metres actual often result in severe head injuries.

Severe head injuries most frequently occurred in falls from heights below 10 m and above 25 m, whereas in the group that fell from 10 to 25 m, few head injuries were seen and they rarely were the cause of death. This finding might indicate that the falling position is changing during a fall, and the landing position is often head first in lower heights.

Thus it is possible that an accidental fall could result in such head injuries. The caving of the skull would suggest he landed on it, and in falls, usually blunt injuries are ‘planar impact’, confined to one plane of the body. Wrist injuries are also common.

This, of course, does not discount accusations that Abdullah was pushed, or killed beforehand and thrown off the edge. Furthermore, if he was fleeing, it is less likely he fell by accident but was facing the direction of travel, which would imply a different course of fall – perhaps one where he could have corrected his flight and not landed on his head. Indeed, similar accusations have been raised before about young men being thrown off building by the police in Bahrain. The distance of the body from the building is perhaps inconclusive, as most bodies falling from between 5 and 10m will land about 1m – 2m from the building. However, if he was fleeing, and jumped, you would expect that distance to be longer than one or 2m (unless it was a controlled drop, in which case you’d expect to land on your feet – not head).It is also not clear from the MOI narrative where they were during the ‘fleeing’. Were they chasing him on the roof? If they say he fell, presumably they saw what happened, or are claiming to know what happened? A helicopter was heard, is there footage thats shows what happened? Is there any evidence to suggest a chase or struggle on the roof, blood, etc?

Cause of Death

It is not clear either about the quality of autopsy given in Bahrain. The security forces pressured the family to conduct the burial as early as possible, just over 24 hours from the rough time of death (which was in the early hours of the 20th).Determining whether he was pushed is difficult, although some signs of a homicide as opposed to an accident may include fresh grab marks on the upper inner arms according to the aforementioned study (Indicating he was pushed). Were these looked for by who examined body? It is not clear whether the autopsy accounted for this. According to one study on Bahrain , ‘This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that autopsies are not generally practised in the country unless there is suspicion of crime’. As suspicion of a crime is dictated by the MOI, who state quite clearly that the suspect fell, then one has to wonder whether to independence of the coroner can be affected. The death of Yousef Mowali demonstrates the importance of independent forensic reports.

Police said they found Mowali’s body floating in the water on January 13 in the Amwaj area, not far from his family’s home in Muharraq. A state doctor reported the cause of death as drowning and ruled out signs of violence.However, Al Jazeera has exclusively obtained a report from a second autopsy performed by an independent forensic pathologist that concludes Mowali was electrically tortured and unconscious when he drowned.

Death certificates also appear to produce a lot of erroneous results, according to this 2010 study in Bahrain. Furthermore, in Bahrain, death certificates in such cases are highly inconsistent . In 2015, the public prosecutor said Death Certificates only reported the physiological cause of death (As in Case with Ahmed Ismail). However, in the recent cases of the three killed at sea, only the proximate cause (gunshot wounds) was identified. Thus there seems to be wild inconsistency in stating what was the proximate, or immediate and determining causes of death. Thus a death certificate will not necessarily be useful.

Whatever happened, it is certainly unusual that the MOI’s confrontation with another fugitive has resulted in yet another death, making this the 8th death this year. Either way, there are important questions to be asked about the nature of the autopsy, and the events that happened under the cover of darkness, at a time when the government clearly feel able to get away with murder and/or extrajudicial killing.

*Many thanks to Fatima Halwachi for her help for the photos and general information on the ground

Burial of Those Allegedly Killed at Sea Adds to Suspicions of MOI’s Version of Events

Yesterday, the MOI supervised the burial of Redha Al Ghasra, Mustafa Yusif, and Mahmud Yusif. While the MOI usually release the bodies of those they kill to the families, including the three who were executed in January, they did not do so on this occasion. Instead, families were threatened and denied access to the burial site. It is not unknown for the MOI to prevent burial access to limit public disturbances, although it is not a reasonable justification as denial will also lead to similar disturbances. This has raised further suspicions about the true nature of their death (the MOI claimed they were shot at sea in an escape attempt…to Iran). Specifically, it has not allowed people to take photos or properly examine the bodies of those killed to help corroborate the MOI’s story.

Burial

There was also a report that those attempting to access the burial site were threatened with ‘repression’ if they did not leave.

Photo reportedly showing the burial site, surrounded by some close family and the security services

 Wounds

There were also detailed Tweets that presumably leaked out that documented the wounds on the bodies of the deceased.  Redha reportedly was shot three times in the head, as well as the chest and shoulder. Given the video of the shooting, which only showed the sec forces opening fire on one person, it is potentially surprising that the haphazard manner of firing resulted in three head shots.  The information on the bodies also suggests that Mahmood Yusif’s body in particular bore signs of torture, with numerous fractures and bruises. Mustafha Yusif’s body also reportedly had evidence of stab wounds in the neck, and shotgun pellet wounds on the legs/feet/. It is obviously difficult to determine without an independent forensic examination whether, for example, the wounds in the back of Mustafa Yusif were entry or exit wounds. However, if they are entry wounds, one must ask why he was shot in the back if the official version of events was that the group opened fire on the sec forces (Mustafa was also reportedly driving the boat).

deets

The account @Bahraindoctor posted a photo of Mahmud Yusif that materialised on the day of the shooting. As mentioned, Mahmud was reportedly not shot with live rounds, and according to this medical analysis, the bruising around the eyes is indicative of a non-recent skull injury. This potentially raises further questions of when and how he was killed.

Given that three of them were reportedly shot by the security forces in an exchange of gunfire, then it is interesting to explore why in particular one of those killed reportedly had no gunshot wounds. We still know that the MOI have videoed the event from three different angles, and so are sitting on information that would help clarify the sequence of events leading up to the alleged killing.

**Update**

The death certificates of the three killed were disseminated today (14 Feb). All deaths are attributed to gunshot sounds to various parts of the body. While there have been no independent verification of the wounds, the death certificates state he was killed by gunshots to the head and chest. If the above reports about Mahmud are correct, then he bore no notable gunshot wounds. None are clear from the alleged photo either. In such a well documented event, complete with videos, it not clear why each death certificate would say ‘about 5am’. Bear in mind the MOI in their statement said a ship was detected/intercepted (it is not clear) at 5.28am on the day of death.

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Mahmud

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Reda

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Mustafa

 

 

 

MOI’s Killing of Three Bahrainis Leaves Lots of Unanswered Questions

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Image from the MOI saying “planned route of the boat during the smuggling operation to Iran of the wanted men”

Today saw the shooting and killing of three Bahrainis on a boat. They were alleged by the Ministry of the Interior to be escaping to Iran. The three killed were part of a group of ten people who had reportedly escaped from Jaw prison in January 2017. The Ministry of the Interior wrote a lengthy account of events here. While it is possible that the MOI version of events was accurate, this post contends that there is little reason to believe that the information released to the public is adequate in allowing anyone to determine accurately the true nature of events.

Firstly, the pertinent information regarding this operation is as follows (from the MOI website).

The Ministry of Interior has named the deceased as Redha Abdulla Isa Al Ghasra, 29, a fugitive sentenced to 79 years and life imprisonment, Mahmood Yousif Habib Hasan Yahya, 22, and Mustafa Yousif Yousif Abd Ali, 35.

Those arrested have been named as Mohamed Jassim Mohamed Jassim Al Abid, 28, Hamid Jassim Mohamed Jassim Al Abid, 28, and Hasan Ali Mohamed Fardan Al Shakar, 22, all of whom were involved in the terrorist attack on Jau Prison and/or aiding and abetting fugitives. Others arrested included Hani Younis Yousif Ali, 21, Ahmed Ali Ahmed Yousif, 20, Ali Hasan Ali Saleh, 38, and Ahmed Isa Ahmed Isa Al Malali, 23, who were named as being involved in the aiding and abetting of fugitives and the concealment and movement of firearms and explosives.

The Coastguard authority said that items found on the vessel included a Kalashnikov assault rifle which was used to attack the coastguard vessels, a GPS system and satellite phone, ID cards, money and personal items.  The authority also noted that those arrested confirmed they were in contact with, and due to meet, accomplices in Iranian waters.

Importantly, a bizarre leaked video of the operation was posted by @Alwatan_live. This can be found below (I would suggest you watch it before continuing)

There is also a clearer, more complete version of the video that was shown in a press conference recorded by BTV. It included aerial footage which indicates helicopters were likely present.

The reasons the videos are bizarre is for a number of reasons, including:

  1. It is edited in a way that makes it seem rather dramatic, with multiple angles taking from multiple points of view
  2. It does not give a full or convincing account to corroborate the MOI version of events, with, for example, it only showing one man rising up from the fugitives’ boat with a gun  (three people were killed). It does not show who shot first.
  3. The multiple cuts to the video could suggest that the editing sequence was not a chronological account of what happened
  4. The fact multiple cameras (probably around three) were evidently used to create all the angles suggests there are numerous recordings of the event from different angles, all of which would give a better idea of what happened if left unedited.
  5. The initial leaked video was also a recording of a video playing on someone’s laptop – who edited it? Why was it edited?
  6. The audio is not clear

Some of the frames from the video are puzzling. See below.

peeps1

 

 

The above shot shows a smallish boat that presumably had around 10 people in it. The man circled on the right is, from the video, brandishing a gun. However, what is happening on the left. Is someone driving the boat? Is that someone sitting by the steering wheel? Have the others ducked down? (there are meant to be ten in the boat at this point). What is the high vis looking vest? Why is it raised in the picture, but not in the later ones? Is it a person? None of the video shows clear evidence of the faces of those on board. Following this scene, the police fire (fairly recklessly, but perhaps because they were taken by surprise if the video is legitimate).

shooting.jpg

At the end of the video you see the empty boat belonging to the fugitives. You do not get a clear view of where the victim was, as it would be in front of the steering wheel. If three people were shot thought maybe you’d expect to see blood? There is no blood. There is also an unusal shot of a policeman picking up what I presume is the assailants gun. The assailant cannot be scene, and again there is no blood.

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Gun, but no body (could be off screen nr bottom), and no blood

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At least one of the bodies should be at the top of the boat. All that is discernible is a blueish mass (could be a body). Again, no clear sign of blood suggesting three were shot. There is a high vis vest in the image, is it meant to be a body?

Bullet Path

The MOI also released other photographs showing scenes from the police operation. These included photos of a police boat with holes in.  As you can see from the first photo of the boat, the bullet holes appear to be on the left of the front of the boat. These, if the video is accurate, would presumably be exit wounds, as this boat, identifiable by the number reflected in the sea, pulled up on the right of the fugitive boat in the video. The shooter would have been on the opposite side of these holes (unless the photo is flipped). However, in another video you see the other side of the boat, where the bullets should have entered, but it doesn’t look like there are many (except one hole). Perhaps this is nothing, but it still is not clear from what people are being presented.

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Note there is perhaps only one clear bullet hole on the apparent entry side, although this is not really conclusive from the photo given (there are also close ups of the white marks on the blue, that could potentially be bullet holes).

Procedures?

For what was clearly well resourced operation, it is unclear why the security services had to result in deadly force. There are at least three coastguard boats involved. In the above picture you can see two boats, and there is also the boat from which the photo is taken. While there are inevitably procedural questions, e.g. where was this procedure learned, was the engine disabled before the boat was approached?

Opportunity for Propaganda

The MOI were very quick to mention Iran. In addition to releasing a photo of a map stating that the smugglers intended to go to Iran, the MOI’s first tweet, before even announcing the deaths, was about Iran.

While this doesn’t undermine the potential veracity of the MOI’s statement, it does, along with the bizarrely slick editing of the video, point to a very well planned media event, one clearly designed to show a hard hitting security force ready to defend Bahrain from Iran. It also feeds into the regime’s discourse that Iran is behind the unrest, and the escape of the detainees from Jau.

Whether true or not, if I were a Bahraini (irrespective of political stance), I would want to see an unedited video, and a better account of events from the MOI. This would include a proper explanation of how such a well prepared group of Coasguard and security officers allowed the smugglers to get so far out to sea before killing them.

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Aerial shot of the boats