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Stop impunity in Bahrain

by Ahmed Ali


The Bahraini government has been leading a campaign of repression against its civilian populace since the start of the 14February uprising in 2011.

Calls for democracy, human rights and justice are being met with extrajudicial killings, torture, media defamation, arbitrary arrests and detention.

The wanton imprisonment of political activists has left the country’s prisons 33 per cent over capacity, whilst prisoners have been left to die without adequate medical care.

The predominant weapon used to target protesters and civilians has been the inappropriate use of riot control equipment, mainly in the form of tear gas canisters imported from abroad.

Tear gas has been used to instil fear amongst Bahrain’s dissidents. In around 1000 days, approximately two million tear gas canisters have been used according to activists.

It’s the weapon of choice for the Bahraini security forces as it can be disguised as a form of riot control, as opposed to live ammunition. Although this was deployed during the early days of the protests, the government feared it would more readily draw international criticism.

Practically every night, Bahrain’s security forces launch tear gas canisters at homes, vehicles, places of worship, businesses and even sporting grounds, as these videos show.

Furthermore, tear gas is being used as a form of collective punishment against innocent civilians who are the victims of excessive and indiscriminate police operations.

A leaked tender document detailing a large order of tear gas for Bahrain was recently published by the research group Bahrain Watch.

The document exposed the government’s intention to import an additional 1.6 million tear gas canisters, 90,000 tear gas grenades and a collective of 145,000 sound and flash grenades.

Tenders by the Bahrain Interior Ministry are generally not made publicly available and the release of this document marks the first time that an apparent tender for tear gas has been made public.

A global campaign called Stop The Shipment (#StopTheShipment) was subsequently launched on 18 October, 2013 by Bahrain Watch, targeting South Korean, South African and German tear gas manufacturers as well as national authorities, asking them to stop all tear gas exports to Bahrain.

Based on examinations of spent tear gas canisters used on protesters in Bahrain, Bahrain Watch identified South Korean firms DaeKwang Chemical Company Ltd and CNO Tech Ltd, and German/South African company Rheinmetall Denel Munitions as the producers of the tear gas recently used in Bahrain.

Tear gas manufactured by DaeKwang Chemical Company and Rheinmetall Denel Munitions has been linked to the deaths of two teenagers: 15-year old Sayed Hashim and 14-year old Ali Al Shaikh.


Fatal consequences

Over 31,000 emails have now been sent to the relevant authorities about the shipment, lending weight to a campaign which includes calls from the Korean Federation of Trade Unions asking the South Korean government to ban all exports of tear gas to Bahrain.

The importance of this shipment cannot be stressed enough: tear gas is being used as the central weapon in order to crackdown on dissent in Bahrain.

The excessive use of CS gas, which is the key chemical component of tear gas, has had fatal consequences over the past few years in Bahrain.

Over 39 people have been killed either through constant exposure to tear gas or trauma caused by direct body shots from canisters fired by security personnel.

At least four people have died after being shot with tear gas canisters, usually on the head or neck, including 14-year-old Ali Al Shaikh who received canister-related head injuries during a peaceful protest.

Another victim, 20-year-old Mahmood Al Jaziri died on 22February, 2013, after being shot directly in the head by riot police, an incident captured on camera.

Journalists have been targeted and security forces even stormed a boys’ school earlier this year, suffocating both students and teachers.

Even those who have been killed by security forces have their funerals systematically targeted with teargas.

Long-term health complications have been recorded from doctors who have treated civilians exposed to the toxin.

Cases of miscarriages have escalated as have complications for sickle-cell patients. There are also fears that cancer levels may increase as a result of excessive exposure to CS gas.

According to Physicians for Human Rights, the use of tear gas in Bahrain has been ‘weaponised’, describing it as ‘unprecedented in the world’.



The United Nations called for independent investigations into “worrying reports” received by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights about the excessive and disproportionate use of teargas, birdshot pellets and rubber bullets against protestors and civilians by Bahraini security forces.

Similarly, the European Parliament has also strongly disapproved the use of tear gas in Bahrain and called for sanctions against all individuals directly responsible for the human rights abuses in the country and for strict restrictions on EU exports of surveillance technology, tear gas and crowd-control material.

Non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Human Rights First have all shown concern over the oppressive use of tear gas in Bahrain.

The incessant use of force and reprisals against protesters and civilians stems from the structure of impunity and lack of accountability for the gross human rights violations that continue in Bahrain until today.

The medical profession was targeted to disable all forms of health care to those injured by the government crackdown.

Doctors were arrested, tortured and imprisoned, leaving the injured obliged to fend for themselves.

Trials have been cosmetic, used merely to penalise those who criticise the regime.

Those arrested on protest-related charges are later sentenced to lengthy prison terms and are often handed out sentences that are lengthier than those given to security personnel accused of killing or torturing protesters.

Only last week, a police officer charged with shooting a protestor to death in 2011 had his jail sentence cut down to three years, while dissidents charged with burning tyres were sentenced to five years.

Not only have torturers been protected from legal proceedings but they have also been “thanked” for their service by the prime minister, HRH Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.

Developments over the next few months will be unpredictable, in particular with regards to whether or not the proposed shipment of tear gas is cancelled.

But international pressure must be raised to ensure that government officials and security officers accused of human rights abuses are held accountable for their actions.

Future exports of tear gas to Bahrain must be stopped until this culture of impunity ends and genuine reform is established.


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