Lethal Shrouds, Weaponised Loudspeakers, and Freedom of Expression Events. These are just some of things you ought to be concerned about over the coming weeks. That’s right, the Bahrain government’s propaganda machine has kicked into overdrive, and it is now making even the most banal household objects seem like a potential Weapon of Mass Destruction. I don’t mean to trivialize matters, but after watching the weekly security report issued by the Bahrain News Agency (BNA), I am entitled to be a little sarcastic. For those who haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Read on for highlights.
Firstly, the report begins with this introduction,
‘The security report brings you a summary of what happened during the week from rioting, vandalism and law-breaking which SOME still call it a peaceful protest. And through this week’s report once again we will show you by footage what has been labelled as peaceful as an act of terrorism, so let’s start this week’s report’.
So the BNA propaganda term are still keen to conflate any act of deviance as somehow an act of deceit, perpetrated by people who claim it is peaceful. In short, they wish to blur the lines between those who actually DO believe in peaceful protest, with those who use violence or other methods. In other words, anyone who wants political change, regardless of the methods they espouse, is a security threat. Figure 1 illustrates the general trend of government propaganda (I know it’s another flowchart – I couldn’t help myself).
The report goes onto to say how security forces foiled an attempt at vandalism after seizing a crate of molotov cocktails secreted in a bush in Karranah. Fortunately, as with the rest of the report, a cameraman was on hand to film the heroic security forces at work.
2 minutes into the video, the presenter states that ‘ Police seized from a deserted house materials used for committing acts of vandalism, including molotov cocktails, empty bottles, fire extinguishers, shrouds, candles and loudspeakers’. I don’t know about you, but I have long been waiting for the government to criminalize the use of shrouds, candles and loudspeakers. It can’t have been an easy decision. The following meme has been generated to illustrate the deliberations faced by the MOI officers who seized these potentially lethal, ‘dual-use’ goods.
The highlight of the report is undoubtedly at 2.11, where the video shows a desk covered in weapon-making tools such as tape, wires, shrouds etc. But what’s that positioned strategically on the corner of the desk? Wait, it’s 1000 Iranian rials! See Figure 2.
In case it was not obvious, the presence of this Iranian currency fits in nicely with the regime’s discourse on political unrest in Bahrain. That is to say, unrest in Bahrain is formented by Iranian and/or Hezbollah agents who get training abroad. Remember when Qatari authorities arrested four Bahraini men who were carrying, maps, dollars, and significant amounts of Iranian Toman! Never underestimate the significance of strategically placed Toman!
Let’s also not forget that the security report did not include any information about injuries suffered by civilians as a result of police violence.
Freedom of Expression Events
King Jong Il may be dead, but his legacy lives on. Indeed, Bahrain’s Ministry of the Interior have sought to highlight the country’s committment to freedom of expression by studying appropriate places in which political groups can erm, ‘ freely’ express themselves. The MOI even have a name for this, it’s called ‘responsible freedom‘. This study has been done in order to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the interests of the public. Of course the real reason this is being done is to further regulate protest, and make it as safe and as non-threatening to the regime as possible. Another aspect of this ‘ responsible freedom’ is that no protest sites will be allowed in the capital. That means that civil disobedience is officially banned in Manama. In summary, you will be allowed to protest, so long as you do it in specific places, at specific times, and in a specific manner. Freedom of expression must never threaten the incumbent order, because that wouldn’t be ‘responsible freedom’ now would it. Rumours of an Expression of Religious Tolerance Event are also being circulated. Shia not invited.
Police to be given superpowers
On a slightly different note, but one that still involves how the state wish to discourage genuine protest – harsher sentences are to be imposed on those who attack the police. The GDN reports
Tough new laws were approved yesterday to protect Bahrain’s policemen – including life sentences…From now on anyone who assaults a member of Public Security, BDF, the National Guard or the National Security Body, will be jailed//The penalty will also be imprisonment for a period of no less than seven years if the assault results in permanent and unintentional disability, no less than 10 years if the assault deliberately causes permanent disability and life imprisonment if the assault leads to death..
While these new laws essentially raise the cost of engaging in protest, they also mask the fact that other laws are being drafted that may give the police more license to act with impunity. On May16th I blogged about how those who committed manslaughter ‘ in the line of duty’ would faced relaxed sentencing. Read the blog here
Propaganda and Police
So as we can see, the police are portrayed as a positive force, protecting everyone’s interest by foiling terrorists and disrupting nefarious foreign plots. The new laws designed to protect them coupled with the new protest legislation signal a further deepening of ‘ legal’ forms of control. In addition to brute force, these ‘legal’ mechanisms simply form another layer of control, ones that aim to entrench authoritarianism by providing a veneer of lawful legitimacy.