There’s remarkably little coverage in U.S. news of ongoing protests in Bahrain, so I’m indebted to AE Worldview for this footage and interview with Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
“I told him we were close to the end of our march, back to where we started, and we just wanted to complete the round trip and it would just take 10 minutes.”
The officer still would not budge from his demand for the gathering to go home.
“I said it was up to him and that he should not use violence, but if he does, the marchers wouldn’t react because violence wasn’t the solution.”
The officer gave them five minutes to disperse. In fact, the attack began 90 seconds later.
Riot police started beating people with batons. Tear gas canisters started flying all over the place, spewing what many protesters have started to call “toxic gas”, because the new gas being used by security forces has effects far stronger than that employed earlier in the protest. Rajab saw some canisters; none had any company names or other labels.
Rajab tried to get to his car as other protesters sought shelter in houses from the continuous baton charges and tear gas smoke. He only made it 500 metres. Several riot policemen cornered him in an alley. He felt two hard baton blows on his back, then one of the officers punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. The riot police then started to kick him as he hid his face in his hands. As they verbally abused him, he shouted his name and said that he was a human rights activist.
That altered the riot police’s behaviour immediately — the kicks and punches started to fall harder and more frequently.
But then an officer who was not taking part in the beating, possibly overhearing Rajab’s identity, came to his ‘”rescue”. He asked the others to stop beating Rajab and reached out to the activist.
“He insisted on holding my hand and walking with me to an ambulance. I asked him how soon this ‘gesture of kindness’ might appear on Bahrain’s state TV.” Rajab did not get a reply.
As they walked towards the ambulance, Rajab sized up the riot police accompanying him. He recognised several were of South Asian background, verifying the large number of foreigners from Pakistan, India and Arab states in the security forces.
“I asked the officer in English why I was being beaten? Why he had come to Bahrain to beat a Bahraini and how he would feel someone came to his country to beat him in front of his children? I told him, ‘You are from India. You have a democracy. Why do you come here to repress our movement for democracy?’”
The officer denied he was Indian and insisted he was Bahraini.
“I said, then I am fighting for you and your children’s rights. Why do you beat me?”
He did not get an answer.
Note the disturbing echo there of accusations during the Libyan uprising that Gadaffi was using foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to keep order? Accusations that in the aftermath have led to a great deal of persecution, torture and hardship imposed on dark-skinned Libyans and African immigrants at the hands of militias.
But if you’re wondering why we in the U.S. are not hearing from Bahrain much – it’s simple, it’s the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet.