In what was ostensibly an attempt to dissuade attacks against policeman and curb the rising violence in Bahrain, the MOI announced the submitting of a draft law that would penalize attacks on policeman with up to a 15 year prison sentence. Such a law isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though one must also consider how increasingly violent tactics used by many of Bahrain’s youth is largely due to police provacation. Indeed, the BahrainFist operation that began on the 24th January was contextualised as a form of self-defence against continued transgressions by the security apparatus. Although it’s difficult to argue that many of the recent attacks against the security forces weren’t pre-meditated, it’s also fundamental to acknowledge that the lack of meaningful reform coupled with continued police violence is making people increasingly militant. Thus penalising attacks against the security forces after creating conditions that make violence against them somewhat inevitable is ultimately a recipe for continued repression.
Some might argue that this severe punishment is simply a deterrent, one that increases the risks of engaging in violence against the state and thus dissuades activists from taking part. Such conclusions depend on a number of specific variables, including the actual nature of the police force and judiciary. The problem is that the punishments for engaging in low level dissent are rather draconian. For example, 38 year-old mother Fadheela Mubarak had her 18 month sentence upheld for listening to a CD and gathering illegally. Although her sentence was technically commuted, as recommended by the BICI report, it was apparently still held in a military court. This contravenes reccomendation 1720 which calls for a review in ordinary courts all sentences given out by the National Safety Courts. Either way, 18 months in prison for exercising one’s right to freedom of expression is absurd, and if low level criminal activity can result in imprisonment, ill-treatment and torture, then how is that going to show people that the stakes are much higher for perpetrating violent crime?
Anyway, focusing on deterrence as a strategy to assuage violent protests does not address the underlying problems. On the contrary, this new sentencing structure seems to be a sinister indicator of things to come, and one that undermines this process of police reform. The initial announcement came shortly before a renewed crackdown in Bani Jamra last night, which saw an even more zealous return to middle-of-the-night arrests and detentions. This escalating repression will inevitably lead to increased impunity for security officers, for the effective implemention of a crackdown involves a related increase in state violence, one that can only be implemented when those responsible for carrying it out have an expectation of leniency from the law.
What is more, announcing a 15 year sentence for attacking a policeman whilst policeman continue in their attacks against civilians is outrageous. All it does is emphasise the derision with which the state regards many of its citizens. Perhaps this would be slightly more palatable if it weren’t for the fact much of the national media is determined to paint the police as victims while ignoring the suffering of countless other civilians. Even yesterday the Gulf Daily News claimed that Al-Arabiya’s ’embedded’ cameraman Sheikh Aldeen Abdulla Ahmed was assaulted. In an interview he never said he was actually assaulted, though he did say that one of the policeman protecting him was stabbed in the neck (via @FreedomPrayers).
I am not condoning violence against the police, but where is the announcement of harsher sentences against those officers who are excessively violent, or the charges against the senior officials who allow such behaviour to go unchecked? Even yesterday a video emerged that appeared to show a police officer throwing a tear gas grenade at two women after brutally assaulting one of them. This comes barely two weeks afer Isa Qassim gave a pretty irresponsible speech about how riot officers seen to be attacking women should be ‘crushed’. Wanton police brutality against women is clearly just going to aggravate the situation, and the frequency of general police violence obviously makes one question the government’s sincerity about creating stability. Check out this brutal arrest from about a week ago. For something slightly more absurd, check this out. One policeman kicks a protester whilst another steals an item of clothing from a washing line. Ridiculous.
While anyone hurt in this violence has my sympathy, the government need to stop valuing the lives of the security forces over its citizens, four of whom have reportedly died in the past week. If they were committed to creating a more equitable, peaceful and stable society they would have been tripping over themselves to implement the BICI reforms. As it stands the government won’t be happy until it has a nation of compliant, lobotomised and submissive automatons, ones whose visions of Bahrain correlate exactly with the that of its ruling elite. Indeed, this excerpt from a column in the Gulf Daily News describes the ideal Bahraini:
O You who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger Mohammad (S) and those of your (Muslims) who are in authority. (4-59)The verse in question explains obedience in its proper sequences; the third of which refers to Muslim Rulers. The obedience of citizens to their rulers will, no doubt, transform them into patriotic citizens. There will, then, emerge a sound relationship between the ruler and the ruled.
The Interior Minister obviously reitirated this, saying;
I call upon the people to help maintain civil peace and protect stability. Not create disorder and chaos.
This sentiment obviously explains why the security forces are still involved in the aforementioned acts of violence. Or maybe he just believes that a plain-clothes thug throwing molotov cocktails at homes under the auspices of the police is a good way not to create disorder and chaos?
He also added that people are ‘obliged to give priority to national interests, above and beyond sectarian interests’. That would of course explain why the state imprisoned the likes of Ebrahim Sharif, one of Bahrain’s most rational and charismatic Sunni political figures, who continues to wallow in prison when the country should be benefiting from his insight. Not to matter though, because it’s obviously much easier to retain power when you incarcerate those most capable of offering leadership to an increasingly angry and disenfranchised youth. But then again I suppose leadership implies a vision, something irrelevant to a government whose short sightedness allows them to focus only on the next potential victory, to get the F1. As long as people remain incarcerated in their villages, drowned in tear gas and removed from the private spaces that link hotels to the circuit, the government will be well able to convince the world that Bahrain isn’t as bad as the media would have you believe.