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.
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)