Yesterday King Hamad met with the Duke of Westminster, otherwise known as Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor. The two discussed Bahrain and Britain’s historic bilateral relationship and the need to ‘enhance it’. There was also talk of ‘bolstering cooperation’ in all fields – whatever that means. Cryptic Bahrain News Agency jargon aside, it is interesting that the King of Bahrain is meeting with the Duke of Westminster. As well as being the richest British person, Grosvenor is chairman of G3, a strategic advisory firm hired by Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority in 2011 to develop a “media campaign to support Bahrain’s position in the international community”. What the contract involved was not quite clear, though Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, who worked as a ‘special adviser’ to G3, wrote a number of pieces in various news outlets that focused on Britain’s important military relationship with Bahrain.
Clearly 1.5 million pounds will buy a lot more than some PR in the form of a few sketchy articles. Indeed, the fact King Hamad gets to meet with G3’s chairman suggests that Bahrain plumped for the company’s platinum package. King Hamad has also met with Gerald Grosvenor on a number of other occasions over the past two years. In April and May 2011, the two met at the King’s palace where they once again discussed Bahrain and Britain’s historic trade relations, and the subsequent need to ‘bolster’ them. Grosvenor also visited the Bahrain International Circuit where, judging by the photo, he refused to sit on the outlandish sofas.
The two also met in August 2012 when King Hamad visited the UK. As you may have guessed, their discussions revolved around Bahrain and Britain’s historic bilateral relations. Whether or not the word ‘bolster’ was mentioned is unclear, though it should not be ruled out.
Incidentally, the tender for G3 was awarded in July 2011, and Grosvenor and Hamad met back in April 2011. I presume Grosvenor had a few interesting suggestions about how to boost trade between the two countries…and maybe G3 too.
Given the upcoming Grand Prix and the recent announcement of dialogue between government and Bahrain’s political parties, this is hunting season for PR companies, who will no doubt be seeking a windfall for their role in atoning for the government of Bahrain’s sins.
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)
Two weeks ago the Guardian took down a Comment is Free piece entitled ‘Bahrain has failed to grasp reform, so why is the Grand Prix going ahead? According to Matthew Cassel, it was taken down at the request of British PR Firm Dragon Associates, who claimed that it contained ‘considerable inaccuracies‘. The piece, which you can still read here, stated that abuses had taken place on the premises of the Bahrain International Circuit. The article implicates the head of the security at the BIC, which would explain why co-author John Lubbock tweeted
They’re contesting that it was the head of security who carried out the abuse, not that it happened. Typical denial of responsibility.
It would therefore seem that the article was potentially libellous, despite the fact that head of security’s name is mentioned in this witness testinomy on the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights website. Clearly Dragon Associates were able to convince the Guardian that the testimony might not be credible enough to survive a law suit.
So who are Dragon Associates (formerly known as Woodmint LTD)? Well on their website (which was updated from a single webpage in the past two weeks) there is this description:
Dragon Associates is an independently owned strategic advisory and communications consultancy, which works alongside its clients to help deliver their objectives.
Rather frustratingly, their ‘what we do‘ section is similarly vague, and only contains a retro diagram with some banal bullet points. Fortunately though, this quote from the website of a PR company called New Approach PR may help.
keeping our clients out of the press is sometimes as important as keeping them in.
I’m not quite sure how such companies can so confidently offer services that keep clients ‘out of the press’, yet if it involves threatening to sue then I imagine they must have some pretty tasty legal expertise in tow. Maybe their ‘network building‘ service puts their clients in touch with good barristers? Afterall, they must have some sweet hook-ups considering half of them went to Eaton.
Anyway, speculation aside, how much does enlistng the helps of these Dragons cost? It’s hard to know for sure, though if we use some simple deductive powers we can make an educated guess. Firstly, Dragon Associates managing Director Charlie Methven (Charles Harry Finlayson Methven) was working for New Century Media until June 2011. Two months later, the Bahrain government awarded a tender to New Century Media to do Public Relations for the Bahrain International Circuit. They were paid 20,000 pounds sterling (approx $31,000) per month.
So just to recap: New Century Media, of which Charlie Methven was Managing Director, had a contract to do PR for the BIC (though not when he was there). Dragon Associates, of which Charlie Methven is Managing Director, currently have a contract with BIC. It is probably logical then to assume that New Century Media are no longer doing the PR for the BIC (though they still list it on their website).With regards to their fee, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Dragon Associates are getting a similar figure – ( I guess we’ll know for sure when the tenderboard website is updated)
As of tonight, the Comment is Free piece is still down, which indicates that the Guardian is taking the complaint very seriously – and so they should. Accusations of libel are no laughing matter, yet I am still curious to know how Dragon Associates were so efficacious in lodging their complaint. Maybe this all nothing though, and the Guardian simply responded to a routine complaint by a company they couldn’t afford to ignore. Either way, I’d like to know precisely what it is about companies such as Dragon Associates that makes them worth the money.
Thanks to @chanadbh for the tenderdoc
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.