On 9th December, the Ministry of the Interior announced that they would be launching an investigation into the brutal arrest of a young man in the village of Diraz. This announcement came after a video of the incident was distributed on Twitter and Facebook the day before. The video in question shows police hitting and slapping a young boy who is clearly subdued and under control.
Although continued police brutality (despite the government’s vociferous claims of reform) is hardly surprising, it is odd that the MOI should announce an investigation into the Diraz incident almost 3 months after the video first surfaced. Indeed, video evidence of the incident in question was first uploaded on 20th September.
Not viral? No ‘justice’
So why has it taken 3 months for the MOI to announce an investigation? Was whoever runs the MOI Twitter account absent the day the video was first posted? Given that the original video has about 66,000 hits, you’d think the police would be among those who had seen it (what with it being their job to investigate crime etc). In all fairness, I guess the police are more reluctant to investigate crime when they are the ones carrying it out. Maybe 66,000 hits isn’t enough to warrant an investigation? I mean, a video that showed police beating a man in Bani Jamrah got 86,000 hits, and the MOI described this as a ‘ viral video’. Maybe 80,000 is the cutoff point for defining something as viral/worthy of announcing an investigation into. Usually the MOI respond on Twitter to these ‘viral videos’ pretty soon after they occur. The usual format is to announce an investigation and then to say nothing more about it. Indeed, Fig 1 at the bottom of this post that documents incidents involving police criminality that the MOI have pledged to investigate.
No news is bad news
Despite their eagerness to appear that they are paying attention to issues of police accountability, the MOI are not very good at updating the public as to the status of the investigations. As of yet, details of the names, nationalities and ranks of those policemen under investigation have been obscured. It is, of course, possible that the MOI don’t know who the policemen in question are. Perhaps they are waiting for a leaked copy of the names to go viral on Twitter before making an announcement? The MOI’s reluctance to update the public on the statuses of these investigations is disturbing. After all, how do we know they are really doing any investigating at all? What makes it more frustrating is that the MOI have themselves acknowledged the need to keep the public informed.
The MOI has referred the case to the public prosecutor. The policemen’s first hearing will be on November 21 2012 and the public will be kept informed on the progress of the case.
In addition to the MOI’s refusal to update the public on the statuses of these investigation, it is ridiculous that they only announce investigations into a select number of cases. For example, they announced an investigation into an incident where a policeman was filmed throwing a Molotov cocktail. There are at least 12 videos showing policemen throwing Molotov cocktails, yet the MOI only announced an investigation into one of them. (Given that many happened in 2012, I guess the government didn’t want to make a mockery of the police ‘reforms’). Again, this is just an example. Police have also been filmed throwing steel rods, yet no investigation was announced into this.
Over the past year, there have been countless videos that portray the brutality of Bahrain’s security services. In this regard, social media is providing new opportunities to hold those in power accountable. However, if the Bahraini police investigated every incident of documented police criminality, they would have no time to conduct their security crackdown. It would also look bad if the MOI’s website and Twitter account were peppered with announcements of investigations into police brutality, especially when the government are trying to convince a skeptical world that they are carrying out reform.
As it stands, video evidence of police abuse might at least elicit a response from the MOI. Indeed, at least evidence like this prevents the MOI from becoming judge, jury and executioner in instances of their own misconduct, as was recently the case with Aqeel Mohsen, who was shot in the face by the police after he was in a car that tried to run the police over. Although the MOI’s version of events is possible, lack of video evidence means that their side of the story will undoubtedly go unchallenged.
Why bother with the BS?
The MOI’s announcements of investigations in police criminality are mere attempts to convince the public that they are committed to transparency and accountability. Indeed, if they were truly committed to either of these things, the public might actually be given more information and credible updates about these investigations. What is interesting about this latest announcement is simply the incompetence with which it was executed – a poorly (and I’ll wager hastily) written tweet announcing an investigation into an incident that actually occurred about 3 months ago. Of course the MOI are not known for their communication ability, remember when it took them about four attempts to determine the nationality of someone who was killed by a police patrol car.
Given that no policemen, government officials or members of the security forces appear to be serving prison time for the egregious abuses carried out by the state last year, why should anyone find any truth in the MOI’s vague announcements of investigations into abuses? Even if these investigations exist, they are undoubtedly flawed. Let’s not forget, the MOI failed to hold anyone accountable for 45 civilian deaths last year, itself a testament to the quality of the institution’s investigative abilities.
Fig 1 (for pdf click here> MOItable)
So I have just finished reading the Bahrain government’s follow up report to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report. I was not expecting anything particular newsworthy today, but there I was, choking on my cereal and letting my tea go cold. What follows is a summary of some of the most salient aspects of the report. It is a testament to the government’s lack of sincerity with regards to reform. It illustrates their reluctance to hold people accountable for last year’s abuses, and has no real indicators of impending positive change. Having said that, it’s not all bad news, the report contains photos of mosques and prisons cells, meaning reforms are definitely underway…
Police, Accountability and Justice
The most alarming finding of the follow up report is that 45 death cases were closed ‘ due to lack of evidence of any criminal act’ (para 25). 45 is a colossal number of people, and to have cases closed in so many cases is just ludicrous. Given all this police training, have CID neglected to go to policing 101 – ‘how to solve a murder?’. Oh wait, let’s remember the government cannot, in reality, prosecute so many officers for essentially ensuring the survival of the regime. That just wouldn’t be fair.
Although most of us were angered by the fact no high up officials resigned or were investigated for the ongoing abuses, some took solace in the fact the government appeared to be holding police officers to account for those abuses. However, the government seem incapable of doing even this. In trying to determine how many policemen have been put in prison because of abuses carried out last year, I count, erm, zero? One was given 7 years for murdering Hani Abdel Aziz, the other given 5 years for shooting a Bahraini in the leg. However, the latter is thought to not have served his sentence, which was also reduced to 3 years given the accused’s medical condition. The officer given 7 years is also ‘free pending the outcome of his appeal‘. In an interview with Human Rights Watch published today, head of the BICI team Cherif Bassiouni commented on the case of the policeman accused of shooting Hani Abdel Aziz;
“You can’t say that justice has been done when calling for Bahrain to be a republic gets you a life sentence and the officer who repeatedly fired on an unarmed man at close range only gets seven years,”
The follow up report issued in June also states 3 officers were convicted of assault and battery (para 7). What’s funny about this, is that the latest report documents all deaths reported, but fails to mention that any police personnel have been convicted. Usually the regime are quick to ‘laud’ their commitment to justice, so why have they not mentioned that any police officers have been convicted? Very worrying.
The report provides an extensive table documenting the case of each death, detailing ‘ investigation findings’ and ‘reported on websites’. This section is a blatant exercise in PR, as it provides a summary of the deaths, which is almost always accompanied by a justification of the security forces behavior The authors are careful to state before any implication of wrong doing that the security forces were either ‘ combating a riot’, or ‘ on duty’. They are also careful to state the police ‘were attacked’ – the implication being that anything they did was in self-defense (two cases of security forces accused of killing were actually thrown out on the grounds of self defense. 25) . When they detail the version of the story reported on websites it always a cursory one liner such as ‘fatally shot in the head’. (Because websites are always sensationalist right. FOLLOW THE MOI TWITTER ACCOUNT FOR ACCURATE INFORMATION ON BAHRAIN). See below for an example of the PR-soaked, table of deaths.
Another surprising element about the report is that the government provide one of the highest figures for the number of those killed during and after the unrest. Their figure is 92, whereas IFEX, for example, use a figure of about 80. While the regime’s generosity with figures may be a cynical attempt to illustrate their commitment to transparency, their actual ability to investigate those deaths is extremely distressing. That’s at least 45 families who have absolutely no taste of justice.
Abuse and Torture
Out of 122 cases of mistreatment and torture reported to the authorities, only 11 police personnel were taken to court, the highest ranking of whom was a Lieutenant Colonel. Given the trajectory of previous cases, I imagine they will all be acquitted, perhaps with the removal of doughnut privileges (para 28). With regards to accountability for torture and civilian deaths, Bassiouni said;
“A number of recommendations on accountability were either not implemented or implemented only half-heartedly…The public prosecution has yet to investigate over 300 cases of alleged torture, some involving deaths in custody, and there has been no investigation, let alone prosecution, for command responsibility, even at the immediate supervisory level, of people killed in custody as a result of torture.”
Media and Misc
Another salient aspect of the report, and one that reveals the government’s refusal to cede control over their control apparatus is the section on media. Indeed, they say all the right things, and reiterate their commitment to freedom of expression etc, but ultimately the execution will smack of authoritarianism. This is is because ‘ freedom of opinion and expression’ will be regulated by the ‘Supreme Council for Media and Communication’ . This Council concists of 9 members who are appointed by royal order (para 118). That’s right, the King will be appointing the body that is meant to ensure freedom of opinion and expression. Bear in mind 4 people are currently serving a total of up 17 months in jail for insulting the King on Twitter. Even today, the Gulf Daily News announced that there could be a penalty of up to five years for those who insult the King. With regards to media freedom, even POMED’s recent report stated that there was no evidence to suggest that opposition were being granted greater media access.
So there you have it. The Bahrain government has itself issued a report that makes a mockery of its reform claims. That 45 death cases have been dropped is itself enough to make one doubt the integrity of such claims, but the continued lack of justice and accountability, the banning of protests, the revoking of activists’ citizenship, the arrest of ppl for exercising their right to freedom of expression, continued police brutality, the asymmetric application of law, all point to the continuation of authoritarian rule. Even Bassiouni acknowledged the outrageous nature of Bahrain’s legal system, arguing that people whose confessions were extracted through torture were allowed to stand. Bassiouni stated;
“I cannot think of a more egregious and specious legal opinion – admitting that the torture occurred but ruling the confession admissible and allowing the conviction to stand…This constitutes a violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Bahrain is a party.”
The report would arguably be an exercise in PR if it were not so limp. It is, however, quick to laud members of the Al Khalifa family. Victims of last year’s unrest will be delighted to know that both the Youth Creativity Award and the Youth Dialogue Initiative are named after accused torturer Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Lovely.
To conclude, I will cite Amnesty’s report, that was released to coincide with anniversary of the BICI report.
The legacy of the BICI report is fading fast, increasingly overshadowed by ongoing impunity for torture, the jailing of activists, and the ban on all protests. In the face of what increasingly appears to be a defunct reform process, those who have championed Bahrain’s record on reform must be increasingly forced to challenge the charade
Recently it was reported that British police threatened to taser a Bahraini prince for his drunken antics on a British Airways flight to Bahrain. Apparently the prince attempted to ‘storm the cockpit’ and complain to the captain about the poor service. Although the Daily Mail and the Sun are hardly the most credible news sources in Britain, they are probably more so than Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority, who claimed that the prince was neither drunk nor a prince. Instead they claimed that the man had had a bad reaction to medication, and attempted to enter the cockpit to speak to the captain after flight crew forbade him from flying (Note to self: should I ever miss work because of a hangover, try the medication excuse).
While most of us are prone to moments of excess, such brattish behavior is far more vulgar when carried out by members of the privileged classes. We expect more from ‘them’, and it is only exemplary behavior on their part makes their wealth and power remotely palatable. Unfortunately, it is often one rule for the elites, and another for everyone else.
Although headline-grabbing, the drunken antics of a prince pale in significance compared to alarming accusations leveled against Prince Nasser, the King of Bahrain’s son. He is accused by a number of opposition figures of actively carrying out torture during last year’s demonstrations. He is not, however, the first prince in Bahrain to be accused of abhorrent behavior, and it is interesting to delve into the history books to compare Nasser’s behavior with that of a ‘prince’ who lived 100 years ago. I am in fact, talking about the infamous Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa, son of Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, who ruled Bahrain from 1869 – 1923. Such a comparison highlights the historical grievances that many Bahrainis, and in particular the indigenous Baharna, have with the ruling Al-Khalifa family. This exercise is particularly useful when pro-government rhetoric and PR aims to remove any historical context from Bahrain’s politics, choosing instead to justify continued authoritarian rule by using terms like ‘new beginnings’, ‘both sides made mistakes’, and ‘democracy takes time’.
His Highness Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (born: 8 May 1987)
Bahraini activist Mohammed Hasan Jawad (Parweez) claims that Sheikh Nasser flogged, beat and kicked him and fellow prisoner Mohammed Habeeb al-Moqdad whilst they were detained in a Manama prison. Nasser was also criticized for launching a vindictive campaign against those Bahraini athletes who engaged in anti-government protests. Last year he tweeted that all athletes in detention should be given life imprisonment, a ludicrous statement for so many reasons, not least because any rational person might suppose they deserve to be tried before sentencing in considered. Nasser was also quoted as saying on Bahrain TV (the country’s state-run television channel)
“Anyone who called for the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on his head. Whether he is an athlete, socialite or politician — whatever he is — he will be held accountable . . . Bahrain is an island and there is nowhere to escape”.
In light of the severity of the accusations leveled against him, William Hague alluded to the fact that Prince Nasser would be closely assessed before being granted entry to the UK. Given that it would not be ‘proper’ to deny a visa to the son of the King of Bahrain – an important UK ally, it was highly unlikely that Prince Nasser would be denied entry. This did not stop Nasser deleting all his tweets though (a futile act given most of them are archived and can be read here). Unsurprisingly, Nasser was granted a visa, and it was reported that he was actually in the UK from about mid-June.
Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa
Sheikh Abdulla was the youngest son of Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, and not technically a prince since Bahrain had no king back then. Major Clive Kirkpatrick Daly ( Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain from 1921 – 1926) made numerous notes pertaining to Sheikh Abdulla’s crimes. In 1921 Daly writes that ‘Bahrain is in a constant state of unrest owing to the Political intrigues of a small party under the leadership of Sheikh Abdulla’. He also provides a brief overview of the oppression carried out by the ruling family, which included ‘illegal seizure of property, wrongful imprisonment with cruelty, and political murders, for which no one has been brought to trial, and no effort made to enforce justice’. What is also interesting about Sheikh Abdulla is that, despite the accusations made against him, he later became a judge sitting on the court of appeal responsible for trying members of the HEC committee that threatened Al Khalifa hegemony in 1956.
Daly then writes a separate document detailing a selection of the crimes perpetrated by Abdulla. I have included a few of the reports (taken from the India Office’s records on Bahrain), as they make fascinating reading. Some are so outlandish – it feels like watching an episode of Bab al-Hara.
The Prostitute Scam
3. Shaik Abdulla keeps a prostitute named Masoodeh, a jewess whom he seduced, and who was for a time his mistress. He has had an arrangement with this woman whereby she lures young men of respectable families to her house. There they are raided by Abdulla’s fidawis [armed retainers] and sums of money are recovered from them under threats of exposure and imprisonment. A considerable sum of money is said to have been realised in this way.
Abdulla, Pimps, and Forced Sex
5. Sheikh Abdulla is ruler of the village of Jidhafs. His Wazir there one Abdulla bin Razi and his wife, act as procurers for Sheikh Abdulla. Several women have been compelled to visit Sheikh Abdulla at the Wazir’s house. The daughter of Bin Marhun was abducted and kept there for some days, as also was the daughter of Syed Qasim. In each case the parents were threatened and as they would get not justice in any case, endeavoured to escape the ignomy of public exposure. These two girls have since been sent to Qatif each year when it is the season for Abdulla to visit Jidhafs.
12. The daughter of Bin Suweileh of Houreh was abducted by Sheikh Abdulla and subsequently turned adrift as a prostitute.
8. A plot of land with some dwelling premises belonging to Abdul Rasool bin Haji Hussain of Sinabis had been seized without pretext by Sheikh Abdulla and given to one of his mistresses, who now lives there.
10. Shaikh Abdulla siezed the house of Haji Ahmed bin Shaaban in Sinabis on a false pretext, and still remains in it.
A Truly Tragic Tale of Kidnap, Extortion and Death
11. Sheikh Abdulla’s servants abducted a girl a native of Fars. her parents after searching for her for some time returned home and left behind one Muhammed Abdulla to continue the search. He discovered that she was being kept by Shaikh Abdulla. The latter then passed her on to an arab of Zallaq receiving Rs 400 (Rs = rupees). Muhammad Abdulla on behalf of the parents made efforts to recover the girl. He did so on payment of Rs 500 and on condition that he himself married her. She was pregnant and subsequently died in childbirth.
21. Shaikh Abdulla sent for the daughter of one Ali Basri. Her parents refused to send her. Abdulla’s Mother, who has recently assumed the title of Queen of Bahrain ordered the mother to send the girl at once or leave Bahrain. The girl was subsequently induced to marry one of Shaikh Abdull’s [sic] servant but has been put in one of Shaik Abdulla’s houses and is kept as a mistress
22. Some men grazing camels belonging to the Rulers [sic] wife, recently seized a small boy outside a village and committed unnatural offences. The villagers protested and said they would complain to the “Queen”. When they did so, that lady imprisoned about 12 of the leaders and detained them in prison. She refused to send the case to the Qadhi [judge] and subsequently released them after payment of Rs 250.
Abdulla’s Uncle Khalid
19. Another sources [sic] revenue of this member (Sheikh Khalid) is to demand labour from the Shaih subjects during the period of 7th – 10th of Muharram, during which time it is forbidden by their religion to work. If they decline, as they must do a cash fine in lieu is realised.
Interestingly, Charles Belgrave (Personal and Financial Advisor to both Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his son Salman from 1926 – 1957) described Abdulla in entirely different terms. Belgrave writes of Abdulla;
He was handsome, always well dressed, witty and shrewd. He was a man of the world, with a keen sense of humour and a roving eye.
While it is highly doubtful that Belgrave was ignorant of Abdulla’s exploits, the difference between his and Daly’s accounts are on a par with the differing perceptions we see in Bahrain today. No doubt many believe that the King’s son is incapable of carrying out such atrocious acts, yet such naivety is often dangerous, for it presupposes that such behaviors are not the actions of modern men, but simply those of fictional princes or historical caricatures
Some Closing Observations
Abdulla never faced any sort of justice for the crimes he was accused of, and it is naive to believe that Prince Nasser Al-Khalifa will be investigated by the Bahrain authorities. On the contrary, the Al Khalifas and the ruling elite have enjoyed immunity through their tenure as the ruling family. They have repeatedly engineered strategies to keep themselves and their allies out of prison, including the National Safety Law, Royal Decree 56, the State Security Law and the BICI report.
The role of the British and now American protection should also not be underestimated. Even Major Daly acknowledged the detriments of Bahrain’s deal with the British government, which allowed the Al Khalifas to terrorise the population with little or no consequence. In 1921, Daly writes
It is said to me that, if we extend our protection to the Bahrain government, so that it is immune from outside danger, we should use our influence effectually, in order that the inhabitants be not unduly oppressed, and that they should have a reasonably efficient Government in comparison with other Arab states. ‘Failing this’, I am asked, ‘Why do you not remove the British protection, then we should at least have the redress usually resorted to by Arabs. We should appeal to another Arab ruler to take over our country and treat us better.’
Ninety years on, Toby Craig Jones writes
Most importantly, its (the American base) presence enables regional allies to act recklessly. Saudi Arabia would almost certainly not have sent its troops into neighboring Bahrain – a sovereign country – if the Saudi and Bahraini leaderships did not assume they were protected by their patrons in the U.S. military.
The purpose of this comparison was to vividly highlight erroneous assumption that ‘modernity’ brings with it an improvement in things like human rights, compassion and justice. It is patently evident that many things have not changed, and even more obvious that Bahrain’s elite have escaped justice for centuries. The fact we are inundated with rhetoric such as ‘reform’ and ‘moving forward’ belies the continued existence of the one common variable in Bahrain’s unrest – the refusal of many within the Al Khalifa family to relinquish their hold on the nation’s power and wealth.
What’s more, the British and Americans have, through direct or indirect means, continued to offer support for a regime whose legitimacy is in tatters. Even now, John Yates (former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police) and John Timoney (former head of Miami Police) are attempting to offer a fig leaf of legitimacy to a police force who are, in many ways, a modern day incarnation of the fidawis.
Addressing or investigating the crimes of the Al Khalifas would threaten the fundamental logic of their existence, which is to protect the integrity of the tribe from outside incursion. This tribal logic will always resist a fair and just legal system, for rule of law is inevitably subverted when it threatens to harm the interests the Al Khalifas. Obviously I am not saying all Al Khalifas are criminals, but when they are, what are the odds of justice being done?
Finally, it is interesting to see that Daly saw the Al Khalifas themselves to be among the main sources of unrest in Bahrain. He even stated that the oppression carried out by Sheikh Abdulla and his cronies to be tantamount to ‘terrorism’. I do wonder then, what Daly would think if he was alive today? Would he be so quick to call those throwing Molotov cocktails terrorists and thugs, or would he see their resistance as an understandable reaction to a legacy of injustice?
*The President’s Office actually made a legal complaint against the Guardian after they published an article highlighting the accusations against Prince Nasser).
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.
Today the Ministry of Interior tweeted that they would be investigating a policeman after videos were circulated on social media that showed him throwing a molotov cocktail at protesters. Although most people would ordinarly welcome such an investigation, there is little reason to believe that it is anything more than a poor attempt to convince people that the security forces in Bahrain are actually accountable. Indeed, there are a number of videos that have been circulated in the past that clearly show the police throwing molotov cocktails, yet this is the first time the MOI have launched an investigation into it. (All the the videos of police throwing molotov cocktails are listed at the end of this post, if I’ve missed one let me know)
What is important to bear in mind is that all these incidents occurred after the Bahrain government brought in ‘supercops’ John Yates and John Timoney to supposedly reform the police . It is also important to bear in mind that many of the incidents show the police throwing molotov cocktails in full view of their colleagues, with none of them appearing to intervene. This would suggest that such incidents are not just the work of rogue police officers.
When we see these forms of police deviance in conjunction with other tactics, such as the trowing of steel rods, the savage beatings of unarmed civilians, and the indiscriminate firing of tear gas, it becomes increasingly hard to believe that the Bahrain government are serious about police reform. Indeed it would be more logical to assume that police transgressions are actually a tactic endorsed by authorities to achieve certain organisational and political objectives.
It appears that police deviance in Bahrain stems number of factors, which include; an inability to police by consent on account of the current regime’s lack of legitimacy, the paradoxical necessity to enforce compliance whilst also appearing to demonstrate restraint, the need to provoke a violent response in order to support the incumbent regimes’ divide and conquer strategy
The extent to which police ‘deviance’ is actually sanctioned by the relevant institutions (Ministry of the Interior) seems to be corroborated by both the ongoing trangressions, and videos such as this, which appears to show plain clothes policemen involved in transporting molotov cocktails. Regardless of whether the tactic is officially sanctioned or not, the police should not be throwing molotov cocktails. I’m pretty sure it contravenes their latest of code of conduct, which ‘requires officers to abide by 10 main principles, including limited use of force and a zero-tolerance policy on torture and mistreatment.’ It certainly goes against the recommendations of the BICI report, which advocated a thorough program of retraining for Bahrain’s state security forces.
It is interesting to note that after all the documented evidence of police throwing molotov cocktails and metal rods, the Ministry of the Interior have decided to investigate only one case. Furthermore, the MOI’s investigations lack any sort of credibility. As @billmarczak says
Will this be ‘the kind of investigation where we never hear anything again, or the kind where an anonymous police officer gets reprimanded?
Let us not also forget the time the MOI conducted an investigation into the policemen who were clearly filmed beating young men on a rooftop in Shakura. @Chanadbh documents the MOI’s response here, though it is still not known what became of the policemen who were supposedly being prosecuted. Given that there are no reports of state security officers being convicted of any crimes, it is likely that those involved in the Shakura incident are not behind bars. If we consider the fact that the courts recently charged 28 civilians with ‘attempted murder’ for throwing molotov cocktails at policemen, it will be interesting to see how the case against the policeman pans out – assuming of course, we hear anything more about it.
*For an analysis of protester violence, read this
Videos of police throwing molotovs
Policeman in Juffair throws molotov cocktails towards protesters (this is the video that the MOI seem to be referring to in their tweet)
Policeman throws molotov cocktails in Ma’ameer on 16th March 2012
Policeman in Sitra throws a molotov cocktail at protesters on 23th Dec 2011
Policemen in Al-Eker throw molotov cocktails at protesters on 24th Jan 2012
Policemen in Sitra throw molotov cocktails at protesters on 2nd Feb 2012
Policeman in Tubli throw molotov cocktails at protesters on 12th Feb 2012
Policeman throws a molotov cocktail at protesters
Policeman in Al-Daih carries a molotov cocktail on 14th Feb 2012
Policeman throws a molotov cocktail at a property in Sitra on 22nd Dec 2011
Policeman throws a molotov cocktail in Nabih Saleh
Policeman in Nabih Saleh throws a molotov cocktail at protesters on 29/03/2012
Riot officer throwing a molotov cocktail in Dar al-Kulaib on 08/04/2012
Riot officers throwing molotov cocktails at a house in Salmabad on 27/01/2012
(note: it appears the MOI launched an investigation into this last video on 10th June 2014, – over two years after it first happened)