The chances of a Bahrain policeman being held accountable are about as remote as England’s chances of winning the world cup. So the other day, no one really took the Ministry of the Interior seriously when they said they were investigating a case of a policeman throwing a Molotov cocktail at someone’s house. The MOI’s tweet came after a video circulated showing a policeman throwing two firebombs at a house in ‘one of the areas of Bahrain’.
The video, which began circulating on 7th June, is actually from at least 2012. The original apparently occured on 27th January 2012 in Salmabad. The MOI tweet simply refers to a fire bomb attack in ‘one of the areas of Bahrain’. Although the MOI does not provide a link to the video (why would it?), there appear to be no other recent video posted of a policeman throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house.
The MOI’s 2 year delay in investigating this case, as well as its subsequent failure to acknowledge that the video is actually 2 years old, is alarming. It highlights the fact that they are either wholly ignorant, or willfully blind to what’s going on in Bahrain. Of course I am betting it’s the latter. I have raised this point before though; given the volume of evidence showing police violence in Bahrain, why do they not have someone appointed to screen social media for such abuses? Clearly the MOI are aware of the problem yet choose to ignore it to protect their reputation. The bizarre alternative is that they are aware of all the cases but only tweet about a few – weird given their new commitment to transparency. Anyway, if the MOI are reading this, I compiled a blog a long time ago showing policemen throwing Molotov cocktails. As far as I am aware, they only launched an investigation into one of these cases.
Bahrain has the dubious honor of having the world’s longest serving Prime Minister, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. He has been in power since Bahrain gained independence in 1971. Given that lack of dynamism in any political structure is often a recipe for stagnation and regression, it makes sense to explore the Prime Minister’s historic and current role in security and policing policy. Indeed, could his continued presence in office be a contributing factor to Bahrain’s failure to reach political compromise? More specifically, to what extent has his presence, or indeed his personality, created an increasingly sectarian policing policy that has sought to exacerbate communal strife in Bahrain for the purpose of executing a divide and rule strategy?
While it is perhaps difficult to ascertain the Prime Minister’s role behind the recent crackdown, a look at the historical records of Bahrain suggest he was perhaps more involved in policing policy than has previously been stated. This was particularly true following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when much was made of how Shia religious activists in Bahrain represented a ‘fifth column’ that wanted to export the Revolution to Bahrain. Followers of today’s uprising will be aware how the Bahrain government portray the uprising as an Iran-backed plot in order to discredit those who want political reform.
The Prime Minister himself has stated openly that the opposition in today’s uprising are acting on Iranian orders. In an interview he gave to Der Spiegel in 2012, he stated
This movement is supported by Iran and Hezbollah…. The king has gone a long way in making many offers to them [the opposition], but in the end they told us they had to wait to see what Iran would tell them.
Shifting Authority within Internal Security
So how might the Prime Minister have been more actively involved in policing policy? Well, following Bahrain’s Independence from Britain in 1971, the head of the police and special branch were both both British. These were James Bell and Ian Henderson respectively. The FCO documents suggest that both Henderson and Bell had begun to have less influence over internal security policy as early as 1973. State Department documents posted by wikileaks today corroborate this, stating that Bell and Henderson are moving into more of an ‘advisory’ position. In fact, they indicate that the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior (Shaikh Muhammad bin Sulman Al Khalifa) began to call the shots. Robert Tesh, British Ambassador to Bahrain in 1975 writes to the FCO
Two years ago the Chief of the Police and the Head of the Special Branch, both British, came directly under the Prime Minister and were regularly and visibly in close and constant touch with him. Now they hardly ever see him, but work to a Bahraini Minister of the Interior who is fortunately conscientious and hard-working. The Chief of Police is now ‘Director-General of Public Security’, advising and administering from the background rather than exercising direct executive control. He has lost much of his power, and rather sadly accepts this. The Head of Special Branch – which is now, at the top, wholly expatriate – is no longer allowed to detain or interrogate; his intelligence network must therefore function by other means, and the power of deterrence has dwindled. On the other hand the Government is far less exposed to the accusation of ‘imperialist repression’ than it was: and provided it does not become complacent and over-confident the new arrangements should work. The risk of complacency is not too serious as long as the present Prime Minister is in power.
Although Henderson’s changing role does not imply anything about his complicity in carrying out torture, it does have important implications for the potential rise in cases of torture. Indeed, following the crushing of leftist groups such as PFLOAG and the NLF in Bahrain, the latter of which had, according to a report by Bahrain Special Branch, been ‘penetrated at all levels by Bahrain Security Forces’ in 1968, the opposition vacuum was filled by the ‘Shia threat’ in the late 70s and early 80s. As such, large swathes of Bahrain’s population became a potential criminal threat, not because of their political beliefs per se, but because of the religious leanings. Naturally when you begin to potentially criminalise over half of the population, there will inevitably be an increase in arrests and, as a corollary, torture.
Despite the significance of the Iranian Revolution, it was the Iran Iraq conflict and Shia opposition to Iraq rather than the toppling of the Shah that was the catalyst for the Government’s crackdown on Bahrain’s Shia. According to British Ambassador Harold Walker (1980), support for Khomeini since the outbreak of the Iran/Iraq conflict had been negligible:
Since the Iran/Iraq conflict began there have, as you know, been virtually no visible signs of support among the Bahraini Shia for the Imam Khomeini’
Incidentally, Harold Walker seems to have changed his tune. In a 2011 article for the Conservative Middle East Council, Walker acknowledges that although the BICI report found no evidence of Iranian involvement, Iran had been the single most important factor in fragmenting Bahraini society and injecting religion into opposition politics.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the impact of Iran has been the single most important factor in fragmenting Bahraini society and injecting religion into opposition politics.
Torture of Jamal Ali Muhsin Al ALi and Escalation of Tensions
In fact the Shia threat was always overstated, and the government knew this. In fact, both the British and the Bahraini authorities appeared to be entirely relaxed about the potential for trouble in 1980. Although there were demonstrations, some of which turned violent, they were poorly attended and few in number. One such demonstration took place in April 1980, following Iraq’s execution of cleric Mohammed Baqr al-Sadir. After securing permission from the authorities, thousands of people marched in protest at the killing, though some people reportedly deviated from the arranged route and started burning tyres and throwing stones. 64 people were arrested, including Jamal Ali Muhsin Al Ali, who authorities accused of attacking and wounding two Bahraini Army Intelligence officers in the Souq. Sadly, Al Ali was reportedly tortured to death*. British First Secretary Christopher Wilton mentioned Al Ali’s ‘well photographed wounds inflicted by the Bahraini Police’, and described him as the ‘first Bahraini Shia martyr’.
In an attempt to counter the rumours about Al Ali’s torture, the Ministry of the Interior issued a statement that was reported in the Gulf Daily News. They said that Al Ali had died of ‘kidney failure’. Those following the Feb14 Uprising will probably remember that the Ministry of the Interior attributed the death of Karim Fakhrawi to ‘kidney failure’. In actual fact, Karim Fakhrawi was tortured to death by the Bahrain Security Forces. (It is interesting to see the continuities of propaganda). One thousand people reportedly showed up to collect Jamal’s body from the hospital. Although the burial was peaceful, some members of the crowd then proceeded to burn tyres in the Souq.
More demonstrations occurred on the 18th and 19th June, when Hadi al Mudarrasi (exiled Iraqi cleric residing in Tehran) called on Bahrainis to mark the 40 day anniversary of Jamal’s death. According to FCO documents, only 200 people took part in these demonstrations. It was about this time the FCO and the Chief of Staff began to complain about the influx of propaganda pamphlets produced by the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. Most of these pamphlets (one of which you can see above) appeared to focus on political corruption and Bahrain’s relationship with the US and Britain. On the other hand, propaganda from the Islamic Martyrs Movement was far more militant, pledging support for Khomeini and calling for death to Al Khalifa.
The Crackdown on the Shia
Despite these demonstrations, the authorities predicted a peaceful Ashura. Harold Walker writes in November 1980:
‘no necessary reason why the Ashura celebrations should lead to political disturbances any more than they have over the last decade. But they cannot exclude the possibility that tempers might flare up on account of some quite accidental occurrence such as pressure on the Shia crowd by unwise spectators’
Irrespective of whether Ashura was peaceful or not, the Prime Minister seemed keen to adopt a more draconian and sectarian internal security policy with regards to the Shia threat.
The Police have orders to intervene as little as possible – though the Prime Minister said that firm action would have to be taken once Ashura was out of the way. (Walker to FCO, 17th November 1980)
As was predicted, Ashura passed peacefully. Interestingly, when trying to ascertain why Ashura had passed by so quietly, the British thought the authorities might have spread a rumour that Saudi troops were in the country in order to scare the Shia.
There was a rumour, which may or may not have been inspired by the authorities, that Saudi troops were in Bahrain; this certainly had some effect as the Saudis inspire considerable fear among the Bahraini Shias.
Despite the fact Ashura had passed peacefully, the Prime Minister was true to his word and ordered the arrest of 650 people. This was in addition to the 200 people who had been arrested beforehand. The fact Ashura had been peaceful actually ‘encouraged’ the Prime Minister to order widespread arrest of Shia. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s reason for moving against the Shia was reportedly to demonstrate to them that the ‘Bahrain Government were true Arabs’. Apparently even Ian Henderson disagreed with the decision to order this crackdown, as it would ‘probably have the opposite effect from that desired’. The information here is from a message written by Kevin Passmore of the Middle East Department. He was reporting a conversation with Christopher Wilton. Here is the full message.
Christopher Wilton, 1 sec in Bahrain at present home leave, told me on 1 DEcember that the Bahrain authorities had decided to move against the Shia. Ashura (18/19 November) passed off peacefully. Encouraged by this, the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifah, had felt confident enough to order widespread arrests of Shia. Before Ashura some 200 had been arrested; now the total was 850, all of whom were to be detained without trial for an indefinite period. Ian Henderson, the Head of the Bahrain Security Service (who was Mr Wilton’s informant) had advised the Bahranis strongly against this course of action, saying that it was likely to lead to more Shia ‘martyrs’and would probably have the opposite effect from that desired. Sheikh Khalifa, however, had felt that the time had come to show the Shia that the Bahrain Government were ‘True Arabs’. (It is not entirely clear what he meant by this, but he probably refers to the open support given by many Bahraini Shia to IRan in the current conflict.) (KJ Passmore to Mr Palmer, Mr Miers – 3rd December 1980)
Of course one might dismiss this as being a fairly elaborate scheme to protect the British from accusations of excessive involvement in internal affairs. However, it does raise a number of important questions? Namely, did torture increase in Bahrain following 1975. This is, after all, the approximate date when Human Rights Organisations began to record torture in Bahrain*. Or does 1975 simply reflect the fact organisations such as Amnesty began to better document such cases? Afterall, brutal methods of interrogation were used in police custody as far back as the 1930s by the likes of Charles Belgrave and Captain Parke in attempting to extract information from prisoners, political or otherwise.
Having said that, is it possible that the Prime Minister’s increased control over internal security policy prompted a punitive sectarian crackdown thats sheer scale inevitably led to an increase in prisoners, and thus an increase in torture? To what extent did the influx in Shia ‘religious’ prisoners exacerbate sectarian tensions between prisoner and police officer, leading to more harsh treatment? How did the crackdown, and the torture of prisoners simply serve to radicalize religious opposition and thus attract them to more extreme causes (Afterall, policing policy in the 1950s very much relied on sewing divisions within the CNU in order to radicalise and fragment them – thus generating wider support for a crackdown)? How credible was the alleged 1981 coup attempt that aimed to install a theocratic government?
Indeed, to what extent was crackdown on Shia simply a redux of Al Khalifa divide and rule policies that existed before increased British involvement in the 1920s? Afterall, discontent with the Al Khalifa in the 1980s was not just the preserve of the Shia – ‘moderates’, leftists and students all had grievances. The possibility of all groups uniting to oppose the regime was a very real one, so maintaining disunity by exaggerating the Shia threat would work to isolate those groups who feared that Bahrain would turn into a theocratic state. Indeed, such divide and conquer have worked seamlessly well in the recent uprising.
But why have a crackdown when the Ruling Family and, as Harold Walker jokes, the Al Zayyanis and Al Moyyads, could have broadened their support by reviving the National Assembly dissolved by the Prime Minister in 1975. Well, to resurrect such an assembly so soon after dissolving the last one would have been a sign of weakness, one that may have emboldened political leaders to demand more than the Ruling Family were willing to concede. Perhaps a divide and conquer strategy was simply a better way of preserving a kleptocratic autocracy that had little desire for accountability and power sharing.
Obviously I do not wish to overstate the case of the Prime Minister’s power. After all, to do so would to be sideline other members of the Ruling Family, which itself runs the risk of emphasizing that Bahrain’s draconian security policy in Bahrain is the result of a few bad apples. Indeed, much was made recently of the role of the Khawalid in undermining King Hamad, an argument that tends to absolve Hamad and the PM of their responsibility by painting them as victims of an Arabian Nights esque political saga. I also do not wish to understate the role of the British, who were keen to nip protests in the bud so as not to alarm ‘banks and board rooms’. After all, it was the British who supported the 1975 State Security Law (although it is interesting to note that even the Butcher of Bahrain (Henderson) may have opposed the Prime Minister’s decision to move against the Shia en masse). While British concerns for internal security had been a dominating factor of British involvement in Bahrain, emphasising Henderson’s role in torture was still a useful sponge that could deflect criticism from the ruling family onto the imperialist oppressor. Indeed, Shaikh Salman in the 1950s frequently told the CNU that he would love to initiate reforms, if only the British allowed him to.
Anyway, I digress slightly. The Prime Minister is perhaps Bahrain’s most experienced statesmen, and it is hardly surprising given Bahrain’s political structure that aspects of a dominating personality may manifest themselves in security policy. Is it not possible that part of the Prime Minister’s modus operandi is simply the reassertion of what Abdulhadi Al Khalaf describes as the Al Khalifa’s ‘legacy of conquest’, one that was diminished by increasing British involvement in Bahrain during the 1920s?
Note: This post is a work in progress, and I wrote it somewhat in haste as I was going through notes I took several months ago. As always, comments are welcome!
*Karim Al Hibshi was also tortured to death by Security Forces in July 1980
** Strangely, the Americans claimed that there was no ‘plausible’ evidence of torture in Bahrain in 1976. This was despite reports to the contrary issued by Amnesty International in 1974 and 1975
Even by Bahrain standards, today was pretty eventful. In addition to widespread protests, police repression, and terrible GDN articles, there were the curious incidents of fallen fruit, foreign plots and road rage. This post details those incidents – not because they are linked, but because they all tell their own, interesting story.
Today a woman from Muharraq who alleged she was attacked by protesters stepped out of her vehicle and confronted the perpetrators. On her Twitter feed she states that her car was attacked with planks and stones. Full of rage, she got out of the car (whose radio was playing ahlan ya buu Salman – an homage to the Al Khalifas) and filmed herself berating the youths (Video clips here and here). Among the terms of insult were ‘sons of dogs’, ‘terrorists’, and ‘faggots’. She also yelled ‘ Down, down Isa Qassim’ (prominent Shia cleric deemed by many to be responsible for a rise in anti-police violence). The objects of her anger responded by dancing and showing the victory sign. Although some people found her actions to be deeply unpleasant, she also received a lot of support – as this excerpt from her Twitter feed demonstrates.
Such praise is perhaps not surprising when there are many people who believe that those who burn tyres and block roads are committing acts of terror. Indeed, the governments discourse of the uprising, which suggests protesters are either terrorists, rioters, foreign stooges, or religious nuts, has helped legitimize people’s recourse to vigililantiism – or at least harden hearts against state violence. It is not surprising that little is done about police brutality, as there are people out there who believe that victims of police violence fully deserve it. Furthermore, the disruption to many people’s daily lives caused by road blocks and tyre burning are helping to ground the government’s hyperbolic rhetoric in reality – even if the connection is tenuous.
Unfortunately, the government’s framing of the protests as acts of domestic terror or hooliganism limit the empathy felt by those who are seduced by such propaganda, for the rhetoric of terror provokes instinctive desires for protection and defence. This creates support for zero tolerance policing, and even zero tolerance citizenship, where citizens who support the status quo are protected by the state when they themselves police dissent by engaging in acts of vigilantiism. I do, for example, wonder whether a protester would so brazenly chant Down down with Hamad without at least protecting his/her identity. Remember that four Bahrainis were sentenced to prison for insulting King Hamad on Twitter. Also, two boys were imprisoned recently for mocking a Sunni cleric and filming it. Is shouting Down Down Isa Qassim and filming it also worthy of a prison sentence? I doubt it. I mean no one should be imprisoned for insulting a cleric, but that’s not the point. The point is, will the law deal with the two cases equally?
Today a video also emerged that shows two riot officers stealing fruit off a tree in the village of Duraz. Personally I find such footage quite interesting, as videos of the riot police usually show them engaged in their militaristic and repressive style of policing. You rarely see them doing something as human as eating. Such acts tend to undermine the cold, heartless facade created by the blue uniform, helmet and body armour. Anyway, what is interesting about them stealing the ‘Kanaar’ off a tree is that recently a migrant worker was fined 1BD and spent time in custody for doing the very same thing. Well, almost the same thing, the fruit he took had actually fallen from the tree. The court stated that under Islamic Law it was fine for someone to eat fallen fruit, so long as that person sought the permission from the owner. Although the court asked the farm owner if he would consider dropping the charges, he refused. The tragedy of the story was then compounded by Anwar Abdulrahman, editor-in-chief of the pro-gov paper Akhbar al-Khaleej, who suggested in an oped that the farm owner’s vindictiveness stemmed from a ‘ Molotov culture’ that bread hatred and inhumanity. Obviously blaming protesters for the universal suffering of all expats has become one of the regime’s favourite propaganda devices.
Whether or not anything will happen to those two riot policeman is uncertain, though if anyone in Duraz is missing two pieces of fruit, I suggest they get in touch with the MOI. You never know, the MOI might announce a ‘ probe’ or ‘ investigation’ into the case on their Twitter account.
Crisis in Bahrain tends to prompt a predictable response from the regime – the announcement of a foreign plot. Today was no exception, and only two days after the second anniversary of the 14th February uprising, the Ministry of the Interior announced that they had arrested 8 men who were part of a terror cell with links to Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. This comes almost a month after a Kuwaiti news portal claimed Qatari authorities had intercepted an Iranian boat smuggling weapons to Bahrain. (Qatar later denied the story.) Similarly, on 21st March 2011, about a month after widespread popular protest erupted in Bahrain, King Hamad announced that a foreign plot had been foiled with the aid of Saudi troops. A week later a Kuwaiti news site said that Qatari authorities had intercepted two Iranian ships carrying weapons to Bahrain.( Again, Qatar denied the story. ) On 12th November 2011, a few weeks before the release of the BICI report, the government reported that they had discovered another terror cell with links to Iran. The same happened the day before the National Assembly was dissolved in August 1975. About 30 people were arrested from the National Liberation Front and the People’s Front. Soon after, the weekly paper ‘ al-Mawaqif’ published an article claiming that a ship loaded with arms was intercepted as it headed towards Bahrain. Many of those arrested also had ‘ pamphlets ready for distribution’. The only difference about today’s ‘ plotters’ is that they are Shia rather than ‘left-wing’.
It is of course hard to know when the government are telling the truth, though given the lack of credible evidence about such plots it seems that a lot of it is just bullshit that serves to reinforce the government’s rhetoric about a foreign bogeyman intent on interfering in Bahrain’s sovereignty. Without constant scaremongering and reminders of this threat, it is hard to make Bahrainis turn against one another and call each other that overused and disgraceful term – ‘traitors’.
Readers of the Ministry of the Interior’s press releases have come to expect a certain detached nonchalance. What they lack in compassion they certainly make up for in vindictive zeal. Indeed, their press releases are much more sophisticated than some of the Google translated dross that emanates from the Bahrain News Agency, as anyone who remembers the phrase ‘hostile megaphones’ will know. (If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘hostile megaphones’. It’s a BNA exclusive…) Today’s MOI press release was no exception, and as usual, they reported the death of 16 – year- old Hussain al Jaziri with their customary dispassionate flair.
Having seen dozens of similar MOI statements over the years, it is interesting to note the rhetorical devices in their statements and/or tweets. Indeed, they have a specific formula in which they do a number of the following things:
1) Vilify the victims or the people the victim was associated with. I.e. Say they were engaged in nefarious activities or doing something illegal/using weapons
2) Denounce any responsibility by indicating that the police acted in self defence
3) Use phrases that imply lack of agency when it comes to killing. I.e. instead of saying the victim was killed, say he died. Similarly, suggest disconnect between incident and death of victim
4) Legitimize police response by mentioning how they adhered to protocol or were doing their duty
Take a look at this excerpt from today’s MOI statement concerning the death of Hussain Al Jaziri. I have included numbers used above to mark the rhetorical devices used by the MOI in their attempts to abrogate their responsibility
The most violent (1) group amassed at around 8am in the village of Daih where 300 rioters assembled to attack police (1) deployed in the area, with rocks, steel rods and Molotov cocktails (1). Warning shots (4) were fired but failed to disperse the advancing crowd which continued their attack (1). Officers discharged birdshot to defend themselves (2) and at least one rioter was injured (3) in the process. A short time later, a young man was pronounced dead at (3) Salmaniya Medical Complex.
In a similar incident in October 2012, when the police shot and killed 16-year-old Hossam al-Haddad, the MOI issued the following statement (forgive my hasty translation – original is here)
The director general of the Muharraq Police dept said that a police patrol was carrying out its duty securing (4) a crowded Al Khalifa Avenue in the middle of Muharraq, when it was subjected to a terrorist attack (1) carried out by a large number of fire bombs (molotovs) (1). This was at 9.30 pm yesterday. The attack endangered the lives of the patrol, civilians, residents and those present, which led to the injury of the patrol, fear among citizens/residents, panic, and damage to public and private property (2). The police dealt with matters in accordance with established legal procedures (4) appropriate to such cases and defended both themselves and citizens (2 and 4). This resulted in the injury (3) of one of the persons taking part in this terrorist activity (1), who was immediately taken to hospital where he died.
To confirm, this was both a terrorist act and attempted murder (1 and 2), intended to take the lives of those policemen on patrol whilst also subjecting citizens and residents to danger.
Director general says he had informed the public prosecution of the incident.
Tragically, a policeman was also killed today (February 14th 2013). Interestingly, however, it illustrates just how the MOI choose to frame the deaths of what it has, in the past, called ‘duty martrs’. The statement about the death of policeman Mohammad Asif reads as follows:
Police Officer Dies In Unprovoked Attack
The Chief of Public Security Major-General Tariq Hassan Al Hassan announced the death of policeman Mohammed Asif on Thursday at 10:50 PM. The Chief said that Mohammed Asif was targeted by rioters in Sehla who shot a projectile that fatally injured him (1). He died on his way to hospital. The Chief stated that while Asif and several other policemen were securing roads and maintaining order in Sehla, a group of rioters attacked them with Molotov cocktails, projectiles, steel rods and stones (1). The Chief said that after Asif was injured, an investigation was immediately launched to find and arrest those
responsible. Once arrested they will be referred to the Public Prosecutor.
Contrary to the report about the death of Hussain Al Jaziri, which implied his guilt , and stated that he was participating in the day’s most violent protest (the fact the protest was termed ‘the most’ violent also indicates that police were under the most duress at this time- further legitimizing their harsh response), the report about Mohammad Asif claims that the attack was unprovoked. So whereas protesters killed by the police are inevitably done in the name of ‘self-defence’, police killed at the hands of protesters are done so without provocation. It also states that an investigation was launched to find those who were ‘responsible’. When protesters die at the hands of the police an investigation is sometimes launched, though it rarely mentions that the purpose is to find out who is ‘responsible’. Presumably it is the protesters themselves who are responsible for their own deaths. Afterall, they are taking part in rioting right?
While it unsurprising that the MOI use these rhetorical devices to demonise protesters and absolve themselves of responsibility, it is disturbing that such statements will probably be the basis of the police’s defense argument should they actually end up in court*. This is especially disturbing when the media are prevented from baring witness to such incidents. Indeed, journalist Mazen Mahdi and a number of other reporters were arrested and detained today for covering protests (though they weren’t given an actual reason for their arrest). By removing witnesses from the scenes of such incidents the MOI are able to exploit an information vacuum, one in which their testimony will lack credible contradiction. This is especially true in a court run by a non independent judiciary dominated by members of the Ruling Family, who also run the Ministry of the Interior.
In addition to using rhetoric that demonizes protesters, the MOI often use the term ‘to become a martyr’ when referring to police casualties They do not do this with civilians, which suggests they are attempting to appropriate the category of ‘legitimate victim’. By doing this they are also suggesting that civilian victims of police violence are not worthy of the term martyr, for the term implies that the person in question was not about to commit a sin. The lionisation of the police who die on duty, and the subsequent vilification of civilians who die at the hands of the police indicate an innate assumption that police action, no matter how despicable, is justified. This is mirrored by the fact that only four policemen have been sentenced for killing civilians since 2011, and that was for manslaughter. Such an approach to policing tends to ‘de-emphasize the role of officers as providers of service to citizens and communities and instead treats them as surrogate soldiers following the orders from superiors.’ (Juska and Woolfson, 2012).
Furthermore, the increased militancy of many youth coupled with the militarization of policing in Bahrain is simply going to compound antagonism between citizen and state. Failure of the state’s institutions to carry out justice against police and officials will simply means that alternative avenues will be sought to achieve justice. Indeed, vigilantiism is a product of perceived righteousness in carrying out justice, and youths throwing Molotov cocktails will only ever feel more justified in their actions should the state continue to deny them the opportunity to see justice done in the courts. A just state will work to isolate those using more radical methods by demonstrating that civil society, and not the street, is the place to solve one’s grievances.
* Note too how such rhetoric finds its way into the BICI report and BICI follow up reports.
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)
For those of you who don’t know, I have a clone. For the second time, Bahrain’s exemplary contribution to global journalism, ‘the Gulf Daily News’, has published a letter allegedly written by someone called Marc Owen Jones. While there are undoubtedly other Marc Owen Joneses out there, the chances of there being one who has the same background as me are very small. The first letter, pictured below, describes my not-so-alter ego as a ‘former longer-term resident of Bahrain who retains strong links with the kingdom’. He also ‘now lives in Britain’.
While the deliberately vague autobiographical details match my own, Marc Owen Jones II has the opposite political opinions to me. This piece lauds the king, makes generalisations about the opposition, demonises Al Wefaq, drools over the BICI, vilifies protesters, exaggerates reforms, and uses vomit-inducing phrases like ‘so-called protesters’. Although it is somewhat pathetic that someone should resort to using my name to mislead the predominantly expat readers of the GDN, I was relieved to find out that fake me won the ‘Star Letter’ award. Unfortunately, however, I won’t be able to claim the 25 dinars’ worth of Yateem Centre vouchers. If so, I could have bought a lifetime supply of trousers – with change to spare.
Initially I thought the above stunt was a one-off wind up, though today another letter appeared in the GDN, also under my name. This one is even more hilarious, complete with bizarre references to DeLoreans, Back to the Future and Dr. Who. Despite these overbearing attempts to appear endearing and authentic, the whole thing stinks of someone pretending to be a middle-aged Englishman, ( or Welshman for that matter). Some people have suggested his misuse of the subjunctive mood (stand instead of stands in the last paragraph) is indicative (pun intended?- ((lame grammar)) joke) of the writer’s poor grasp of English. It has also been suggested that the phrase ‘how sad to see’ is a construction more similar to التعجب used in Arabic. i.e. How wonderful is this article. ما أجمل هذا الكذب! . The author also uses the peculiar and rather obsolete word ‘RATCHETING’. I can safely say that I have never used this word in writing at any point in my life. Such odd words are a common feature of the GDN though, take a look at this letter for example, which uses the word CARBUNCLE. A personal favourite though is this letter, which is entitled CODSWALLOP!. Finally, to confirm my suspicion that most GDN letter writers think they are still living in Colonial India, how about ‘Jolly Spiffing’?
I doubt the author is British. He/she is more likely to be South Asian or Arab. I am, however, pretty sure that the author is not called Marc Owen Jones. Even the name Marc Owen Jones seems somewhat mundane alongside today’s other letter contributors, which include C. Dickens and Miss Moneypenny…
Anyhow, I think there are three possibilities that may have motivated this ‘hoax’.
1) Someone is just trying to wind me up
2) It is written by GDN staff out of revenge for my frequent trolling of the paper (In all fairness, this whole stunt proves that the GDN is pretty terrible).
3) Given that it smacks of propaganda, it is written by the GDN/PR company/random punter because they think my blog or tweets are read by expats, and the author(s) is(are) worried that expats might view my opinion as a credible source of information/opinion. If this is the case, then whoever is responsible for writing it is trying to use my name to fool expats into thinking that I unequivocally support the government.
Either way, this whole incidence illustrates how much of a joke the GDN is. They have already been sent a complaint about the first incident, though they seem unfazed. Let’s see if Marc Owen Jones II perseveres.
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