As protests continue in the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain, the police keep bombarding dissenters with tear gas, which local residents say is now getting both stronger and thicker. It’s not only affecting just protesters, either – tear gas is getting into people’s homes. For many, it’s now becoming part of everyday life.
Bahraini human rights groups have cried out against the widespread use of tear gas, which they say is being spread haphazardly in areas where the authorities believe protesters live, notably lower-income Shiite neighbourhoods. Several cases of death by suffocation have been reported, including of people inside their homes.
Bahrain, despite being predominantly Shiite, is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Since February, many Shiites have protested against the monarchy, which swiftly moved to repress the uprising and has since made few concessions.
“I try to keep my kids indoors as much as possible”
I have a 9-year-old son with asthma, so I panic every time there is tear gas, which is on a daily basis now. Every night, we hear the sound of explosions and gunshots non-stop. While the protests don’t happen directly near my house, the winds bring the tear gas to us. I can hardly imagine life without it now. You can see big clouds of it just hanging in the air.Our house is newly built, so it’s safe enough inside. However I can feel the gas every time I need to go to the kitchen, which is separate from the house. But I am lucky compared to the nearby villagers. Their houses are older and poorly built, with cheap air-conditioning systems that let all the tear gas inside. I worry for these people just as much as I worry for my children. But if we dare to speak out about this, we become traitors!Recently I was stopped at a traffic light on my way home from my children’s school. We saw a group of boys, mostly teenagers, crossing the road. They were protesting peacefully, carrying Bahraini flags. Suddenly a couple of riot policemen came out of nowhere. As they were walking toward the boys, one of them loaded his teargas gun. I could see him smiling as he shot it at those boys. My 9-year-old got scared and shouted, ‘Mom, look, they just shot at the people who did nothing… they never even talked to them or warned them!’I try to keep my kids indoors as much as possible. The police don’t just shoot gas at protesters; they shoot it everywhere. Because most of the protesters live in villages, they assume everyone living in a village is a protester. They shoot directly into the courtyards of houses.I wanted to leave. I asked for a transfer from my company to work abroad, and they agreed. But my husband changed his mind; he thought the situation would get better, and didn’t want to leave his parents here. But it’s only getting worse.”
"I've seen all different colours of tear gas - white, blue, red, yellow, even green. It's like a rainbow"
Where I live we can smell the tear gas, but it’s not as bad as many other places. Thursday I was at my grandfather’s house in a nearby village for my weekly family gathering. The house was full of kids, women, older folks. We suddenly smelled the tear gas get stronger and stronger, until the kids started crying and having trouble breathing. We took the kids out of the living room and went into the back rooms, where it was a bit more tolerable, and sniffed perfumes to ease the smell. My grandfather is in his 70s, and he breathes this every day. I worry that will have long-term effects on his health.Me, I’m used to it. In the protests, you’re in the thick of it. I’ve seen all sorts of different colours of tear gas – white, blue, red, yellow, even green. It’s like a rainbow! They’re using different gases now; these last few weeks they have gotten stronger and stronger. After getting caught in a cloud of yellow tear gas, I had a migraine for 24 hours.I think that because there is international pressure on Bahrain, the authorities don’t want to use live bullets anymore. Instead, they spray tear gas all over the place to punish the population for demanding their rights and keep people indoors. They think by using excessive amounts of tear gas, this will make people get fed up and stop protesting. They probably think this will make some people turn against the protesters, too. But that’s not happening – people are only blaming the government more and more.Most protesters are peaceful, but some have recently started using Molotov cocktails. I’m against this violence. However, if the government continues like this, I don’t doubt people will react even more violently.”