By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
MANAMA, Bahrain – On December 17, police and protestors clashed during a demonstration marking ten years since the death of a leading Shiite activist. The demonstration, organized by the opposition parties, sought compensation for claimed human rights violations which occurred the 1980s and 1990s, when the opposition protested perceived discrimination against Shiites. During the December 17 demonstration, the police used teargas and later, a demonstrator, Ali Jassem, died as a result of inhaling teargas. However, a statement from the Interior Ministry claimed that an official medical examination concluded that Jassem died as a result of a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Jassem’s death spurred several days of riots and clashes with the police; including burning tires, blocked roads, and destruction of police vehicles. The largest demonstration occurred on December 20, following a clash between the police and the mourners at Jassem’s wake. Mourners attacked a police officer in Jedhafs village. Riot police responded by entering the village. According to a witness, the police began firing indiscriminately on the mourners with rubber bullets and teargas.
Then, 500 men gathered and began destroying public and private property. The spokesman for the Islamist Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy opposition party, Abdul-Jalil al-Singace, said that Jassem’s death could lead to new protests and mass demonstrations similar to those that occurred during the 1990s, which resulted in 40 deaths.
Following the demonstration in Jedhafs, the police conducted sweeps of mainly Shiite villages and arrested close to 40 individuals. Witnesses state that people were beaten and abused by the police during these arrests. The Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy issued a statement which claimed at least three people were hospitalized. The Interior Ministry confirmed that arrests took place but would not disclose the number of people arrested. The ministry also stated that the arrests are not politically motivated, but instead related to charges of arson, destruction of police cars and stealing police weapons. A statement from the ministry to the official state news agency said that the charges are “criminal and they are not political activists.”
New protests occurred during the following days. Hundreds of family members of those arrested staged a sit in outside the police stations in the villages of Bani Jamara and Malkiya. Riot police were present at both locations, and the protest in Malkiya became violent. Later, on December 25, family members arrived at the public prosecution office in Manama with clothes that the government requested for the detainees but refused to hand them over or leave unless they saw their relatives. Opposition parties and rights groups claim that the government officials denied the request and riot police forced the family members out of the office. However, Interior Ministry spokesman, Mohammed bin Daina, denied the event occurred and stated that the office was evacuated in order to prevent chaos.
Family members and opposition parties claim that the government is refusing to allow anyone to see the detainees, even legal counsel. Harez Harez, a lawyer for some of the accused, told the Associated Press that the government “violated legal procedure by banning lawyers from meeting with the suspects and attending the interrogation sessions.” He also stated that, from his conversations with government officials, 28 individuals were detained.
Bahrain, a parliamentary monarchy, is ruled by a Sunni family. However, 70 percent of its population is Shia. Resentment within the Shia majority stems from high unemployment rates and the government’s policy of naturalizing Sunnis from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and granting the immigrants jobs which otherwise would go to Shiites. Rights activist Abdul-Nabi al-Ekri stated, “the government has created a volatile situation by accelerating naturalization of foreigners with the aim of changing Bahrain’s demography and this exacerbated frustrations among different sections of society.”
For more information, please see:
AFP – Bahrain MPs Denounce Clashes in Shiite Areas – 25 December 2007
International Herald Tribune – Bahraini Police Scuffle with Relatives of Detained Shiites – 25 December 2007
YouTube – Shia in Bahrain – 25 December 2007
Al Jazeera – Bahrain Protests Lead to Arrests – 24 December 2007
Gulf Times – Disturbances Hit Bahrain Areas for Fifth Day: Reports – 24 December 2007
BBC – Bahrain Rocked by Days of Clashes – 23 December 2007
Reuters – Bahrain Arrests 40 After Week-Long Protests – 23 December 2007
Guardian – Violent Clashes Erupt in Bahrain – 22 December 2007
International Herald Tribune – Bahraini Police Stage Security Sweeps Following Clashes – 22 December 2007
International Herald Tribune – Violent Clashes Erupt in Bahraini Capital – 21 December 2007
Al Jazeera – Mourners Clash with Bahrain Police – 20 December 2007
Associated Press – Bahraini Shiites Clash with Riot Police – 18 December 2007