Clashes and tear gas at Jabreya school

Jabreya boys secondary school, located about a kilometre from the capital Manama, is once again the site of violence. On Tuesday, dramatic scenes unfolded as the school was attacked by police firing tear gas against students who were protesting the arrest of a fellow student the day before. Today, protests resumed. An Al Jazeera correspondent reports:

Students have barricaded themselves in, we could see smoke from burning tyres and I’ve seen pictures of tear gas outside classrooms. We’re hearing reports that two students are injured. They are protesting because a fellow student was removed from the school last week by plain clothes police. He is still in custody. This has died down and now we are seeing sporadic clashes with police and protesters.

Photojournalist Mazen Mahdi tried to cover the unfolding events, but authorities prevented him. About 10:30 local time Mazen tweeted:

Police kicking me out from the protest near the school in Manama claiming without police media ID journalist can’t work

Half an hour earlier, Said Yousif Almuhafda, head of monitoring at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, tweeted this picture of tear gas being used against the students, sent to him from inside the school:

Jabreya_School_21-4-2013_teargas

Other photographs from inside the school have been posted online by the “Sanabis Revolutionary Movement”.

Said Yousif later drove towards the location of the school and reported that he could see “riot police blocking the road” leading to the school, and a helicopter hovering above it. He took this picture of the police outside:

Jabreya_School_21-4-2013_police

Shortly before midday, local time, one activist, Maryam, tweeted an eyewitness account:

I’m now next to AlJabriya school. Gun shots are being heard non stop. Mercenaries are aiming directly at students while shooting. Toxic gas canisters all around AlJabriya school area. AlJabriya’s school campus is more like a war-zone!

Students are out from the entrance next to the public garden standing at a close range with mercenaries. As we stood next to AlJabriya school, a man was documenting the attack, mercenaries asked him to hand his phone over to them. Mercenaries asked us to leave telling us that the situation is stable & everything is under control! Yet,we can still hear gunshots.

The officer asked who seemed to be the school doorman if he could recognize any of the guys who started the protest earlier this morning. The doorman replied he couldn’t recognize any of them as their faces were covered. The officer replied, “you expect me to believe this?! You’re telling me you cannot recognize not even one of them?” After that, we were asked to leave that area as the officer told us everything was under control and our stand was unnecessary.

This picture, taken by students, reportedly shows the tear gas cannisters collected by students following the police attack:

Jabreya_School_21-4-2013_teargas1These cannisters are most likely South Korean in origin. Another picture reportedly from the school shows a tear gas cannister manufactured by US firm NonLethal Technologies. A cannister from this company was also identified in Sanabis yesterday.

Graves vandalised

Graves in Muharraq cemetery belonging to “victims of extrajudicial killings” were vandalised today. Mohammed AlMaskati observed on Twitter that “specific graves were targeted, those around it were left almost untouched”. He identifies the graves as belonging to Yousif Mowali and Hussam AlHadad.

Muharraq_Graves_vandalisedPicture sources: top left, bottom left, right.

Yousif Mowali was killed in January 2012. The 23 year old man, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, disappeared on January 11th. His body was found two days later. Authorities claimed the cause of death was drowning. However, his body showed clear signs of torture. A Turkish forensics expert was able to covertly enter the country and examine him. She concluded: “We have proved that the scars on the hands and feet were the scars of electrical torture. The victim was most likely unconscious when he was thrown into the sea and this is why he drowned.”

Hussam AlHaddad, 16, was shot dead by security forces on August 17th, 2012. Authorities described him as a “rioter” involved in a “terror act”. Accounts by eyewitnesses dispute this. His family also contest the official claims. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) offered this account, from eyewitnesses: “Hussam was shot with shotgun pellets which made him fall to the ground. Then, one of his family members witnessed him getting kicked repeatedly by a man in civilian clothing while security forces stood idly watching. Finally when a family member was able to retrieve him, Hussam was soaked in blood. He opened his eyes for a second then fell unconscious.” Following examination of his body, BCHR reported observing “marks of severe beating on his back and shoulder”.

BBC Interviews Bernie Ecclestone & Bahrain Crown Prince

BBC sports correspondent Dan Roan has interviewed F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, as well as the Bahrain Crown Prince.

Ecclestone was asked if there were certain places he wouldn’t consider holding a race, such as Syria. He responded by saying, “They probably don’t have a circuit.” Asked, “If they did though?” Ecclestone replied: “We’d have to have a look and see.”

Ecclestone went on to say:

I keep asking people what human rights are … but I don’t know what they are. The rights are the people that live in a country and abide by the laws in that country whatever they are.

He added:

The government here were really, in a lot of ways, stupid to put this race on, because it’s a platform for people to use for protesting.

Asked if he’d heard about the crackdown reported by Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and other NGOs, Ecclestone implied that they were baseless claims:

I think you’ve got the right word there – you “hear”. Which is exactly what happens. You “hear”.

Watch the full interview here.

The BBC also spoke with former F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who echoed FIA President Jean Todt’s comments that “sport unifies people”, saying that those who are objecting to the race are “out of order” and “doing nobody any good at all”. Jackie Stewart’s son Mark runs a production company which has previously received contracts from the Bahrain government to do promotional work for the Bahrain International Circuit and the Bahrain International Air Show.

In another interview, the Bahrain Crown Prince said of MPs, human rights groups, and others who have criticised the race going ahead:

Well I wish they were here so they could see the reality on the ground. I think it’s easy to commentate from 3000 miles away. But unless you’re really familiar with the situation, it behooves one to come to the country first.

Watch the full interview here. Dan Roan also filed this report yesterday.

Union leaders call on UK Prime Minister to take a stand on Bahrain F1

Earlier this week, several union leaders, representing over 3.6 million workers, signed a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in which they “call upon the British government to support the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2013.”

A copy of the letter is available at this link. It is signed by the following union leaders:

Len McCluskey, General Secretary UNITE (1,500,000 members)

Dave Prentis, General Secretary UNISON (1,300,000 members)

Paul Kenny, General Secretary GMB (619,000 members)

Billy Hayes, General Secretary CWU (204,500 members)

 

 

 

Three journalists deported

Bahrain state media has just confirmed earlier rumours on social media that 3 foreign journalists have been deported. In a statement, the Information Affairs Authority claimed that the journalists had violated Bahraini “laws and regulations”. The IAA claims that the journalists had been warned “more than once” about breaking media regulations (h/t @marcowenjones).

The 3 journalists are from ITN a (specifically, ITV News) and were deported “after being questioned at a local police station”.

Update: 16:14BST – Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed, who is a correspondent for France 24 and Monte Carlo, was working with the ITN crew. She has tweeted the following (I have removed hashtags for clarity):

Bahrain deported ITN team in their second day in the country, they get arrested while shooting AlSadiq mosque in Qfoul

My press card was withdrawn (Information Security) after that I was asked to leave the police station with the driver after the detention of ITN team

Police pulled my security media card and asked me to leave the police station with the driver after arresting ITN team

We asked [Ministry of Interior] & [Information Affairs Authority] why the ITN team been deported, no answer was given.

Update: 16:45 – A report in The Independent carries further details, including a statement from ITV News (note: ITN produces ITV News):

The group, who had the necessary visas permitting them to work there, were then again questioned and taken to a police station today, before being told they must leave the country or face going to prison.

(…)

An ITV News spokeswoman said: “Our news team were on assignment with visas approved by the Bahraini authorities.

“Having filed a report last night, they were stopped while filming this morning and taken to a local police station for discussions with officers.

“They have since been asked to leave the country, which they are in the process of doing.”

Update: 16:53BST – ITV News reveals that one of the deported journalists was  ITV News special correspondent Rageh Omaar. He filed this report yesterday.

The Guardian has also covered the story.

Yesterday, Nazeeha and the ITN crew were stopped by police at a checkpoint and briefly detained at Budaiya police station.

This echoes a similar incident at last year’s Formula One when a team working for Channel 4 News (which is produced by ITN) were arrested, detained and deported.

This post will be updated as more information comes in.

British politician Andy Slaughter on why he supports an F1 boycott

Below is an uncorrected transcript of British MP Andy Slaughter’s comments at the press conference on the Bahrain Grand Prix at the House of Lords on Tuesday, April 16th. Mr Slaughter MP is the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain and he hosted the press conference, along with Lord Avebury.

We are often asked why is a Grand Prix, a Formula One, which is raced all over the world, is of particular significance in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a small country of 1.2million people. It took part in the Arab Spring but the revolution was crushed by foreign intervention through the Saudi invasion dressed up as the Gulf Co-operation Council and the country has effectively been locked down since.

A hundred people have been killed. In the context of a small country this is very significant. All the methods of repression used by the dictatorship are being used in Bahrain including deprivation from freedom of speech and assembly, torture and imprisonment without trial and on trumped up charges. Some of this has been given widespread publicity such as the trial of the doctors who treated protesters.

The grand prix was cancelled  two years ago. It was not cancelled last year. It doesn’t look as if it is going to be cancelled this year but essentially nothing has changed in relation to Bahrain and the statements that come out from the Formula One people. They have been particularly bizarre this year saying that there is nobody demonstrating which is clearly not true. This has been quoted in Daily Telegraph.

The grand prix is of particular importance because it is being used by the regime to normalise the situation. Of course there are other oppressive countries around the world but there is a particular role which the grand prix plays in this small country which is to appear to legitimise to provide an income for the regime and ironically at the same time it is an agent for greater repression because clearly during the week of the grand prix there are protests – usually peaceful protests. The response to this is to lock down the villages and the country in its entirety. This is not a neutral event. This is an event which leads to greater repression in the country where it is being held. Secondly the event is used as a public relations exercise to cover up what is happening there.

The Bahraini regime, unlike other regimes in the Middle East, does pay attention to its international reputation. It employs many public relations agencies. It wishes to maintain good relations with the West. Unfortunately our  government does not have a good record here. It tends to defend rather than condemn the abuses that take place in Bahrain and it continues to sell arms to Bahrain. Delegates went to Bahrain last month with that objective.

It is for those reasons that we believe there is particular significance to the grand prix being held in Bahrain and that is it is totally inappropriate. The All Party Group has written to Mr Ecclestone asking whether they are happy to be associated with Bahrain given the abuses of human rights that are being committed in the country. We have pointed that world brand leading companies pay a great deal of money to be associated with formula one and in the process they are associating themselves with a regime that murders its citizens.

We believe that they  would agree that there is a corporate responsibility that goes wider than their shareholders and that is why we ask them as well as the organisers of formula one to withdraw  support.

Media roundup – F1 criticised, police attack school, protests

With the race just days away, international media is now turning the spotlight on Bahrain. Many journalists have arrived in the country and – to date – there have been no reports of people being denied access to Bahrain unlike last year. Below is a roundup of the various stories from the past 24 hours:

Independent_TheWorld_17-4-2013The front page of British paper The Independent‘s World section led with Bahrain and the attack on Jabreya boys high school by police yesterday. The wide ranging article by Loveday Morris also included a comment by Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed, currently in exile in the UK having been arrested, jailed and tortured in 2011:

The street are clear, they don’t want a race on their blood. The security being used is enormous – it’s simply martial law which has not been announced.

The BBC also ran an article leading on the school attack, along with an analysis by correspondent Bill Law on the “background to the protests”. The Metro ran a similar guide on “Why the controversy?”

Many media organisations, including The Independent, covered yesterday’s press conference at the House of Lords, where the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain announced that they had written to F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone asking him to cancel the race:

BBC SportBahrain Grand Prix: MPs want race cancelled because of unrest

Daily Mail – Ecclestone under pressure from MPs to cancel Bahrain race after letter condemning ‘atrocious human rights violations’

Evening StandardMPs insist Bernie Ecclestone axes Bahrain race

Others organisations led on the recent comments by Bernie Ecclestone:

ReutersEcclestone willing to meet Bahrain opposition

BBC SportBahrain Grand Prix: Bernie Ecclestone backs race to go ahead

Daily TelegraphBahrain protesters are just like those ‘complaining about Mrs Thatcher’, says F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone

The Guardian had an article on FIA President Jean Todt’s decision not to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix as he “will be busy electioneering because his four-year stint in office comes to an end this autumn”. The article adds that “he is expected to be re-elected unopposed.”

Other articles led on the growing protests and tensions:

Voice of AmericaBahrain Protests Heat Up Ahead of F1 Race

ReutersBahrain opposition calls for stepped up protests ahead of F1

Daily TelegraphBahrain on edge ahead of Formula One race

The Daily Telegraph’s Chief Foreign Correspondent David Blair also ran a piece in the wake of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishing its annual human rights report. He writes:

The Foreign Office launched its annual human rights report today, singling out 27 “countries of concern”. But how are these offenders chosen? William Hague was at pains to say that the criteria have been reviewed since last year, although the only change is that Chad has dropped off the list. Meanwhile, various oddities remain.

(…)

Another curiosity is Bahrain. Once again, a case study on page 48 is deeply critical, quoting how a commission “observed that the use of torture by the security forces was a deep-rooted problem and that there was a lack of accountability for such acts”. The government of Bahrain responded by setting up a “Special Investigations Unit”, but the “number of officials being investigated is low, and actual convictions even lower”.

You would think those would be grounds for concern. So does Bahrain make the list? No it doesn’t.

See also the Media Roundup compiled by the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement for April 16th