Accusations of brutality straddle Bahraini divide

 Although the Shiite protest movement in Bahrain has always asserted its peaceful, non-violent nature, not everyone in the small Gulf state agrees. Stories of anti-government protesters attacking policemen and foreigners are circulating on the Web, and one of our Observers says she witnessed a policeman being savagely murdered.


Screenshot of a video posted on YouTube, allegedly of a Bahraini policeman run over and beaten to death by anti-government protesters.


Although the Shiite protest movement in Bahrain has always asserted its peaceful, non-violent nature, not everyone in the small Gulf state agrees. Stories of anti-government protesters attacking policemen and foreigners are circulating on the Web, and our Observer says she witnessed a policeman being savegely murdered.


Thousands of Bahraini Shiites renewed their pro-democracy protests on Friday, March 18, defying martial law declared on Tuesday. After initially making some concessions to try to appease the protest movement, the Sunni monarchy launched a military intervention backed by Saudi troops on Wednesday, March 16, to put down a month-long Shiite-led uprising, using tanks and helicopters to drive protesters from the streets.


The UN denounced “shocking and illegal” abuses by security forces on Thursday, warning that reported takeovers of hospitals and medical facilities were a “blatant violation of international law”.


Although Shiites account for 75 percent of the kingdom’s approximately 800,000 residents, government control has long rested in the hands of a Sunni monarch, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. For years, Bahrain has favoured the immigration of Sunnis from other countries. In order to increase Sunni numbers, immigrants are offered jobs as policemen or soldiers. Protesters say systemic discrimination in Bahrain has impoverished Shiites for decades.


Video posted on YouTube on March 17 by Bahrainz.

Post written by France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.

“I was contacted by a man who told me a so-called killed policeman was in fact his nephew, an opposition protester”

Mohammed Al-Maskadi is the president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. He describes himself as neither pro-government nor a supporter of the protest movement.


There have been several other reports of policemen killed by Shiite protesters, including one reported by the Interior Ministry and picked up by several newspapers. They identified him as Ahmad Abhallah and printed his photo.


Yesterday, however, I was contacted by a man who told me that the alleged murdered policeman was in fact his nephew, an anti-government demonstrator who was killed during the police crackdown on March 16. He sent me a photo he took of his nephew at the morgue: it is the same one as the one of the ‘dead policeman’ published in newspapers. Moreover, the man says the Interior Ministry has not let family members recover his nephews’ body.  


I don’t trust reports by Bahrain TV: they have a clear pro-government bias and on several occasions have reported blatantly false information.


It is certainly possible, however, that some protesters may have committed violent acts. Some are getting more and more angry and desperate, and there have been localised clashes with police.


It is wrong to say the protest movement has an Islamist agenda: it is not only composed of Shiites, and even has a secular branch. One prominent opposition, leader, Ibrahim Sharif [who was arrested on March 18 along with other opposition figures], is a liberal Sunni, and he had widespread support from the protesters. The government is trying to spread the message that only one segment of the population opposes it, which is not true. It is also waving the threat of an Iran-like Islamist state to scare the US.”

“I saw them murdering a policeman with my own eyes!”

Gaya (not her real name) is a Bahraini woman living in Manama. She says her husband shot the above video of a man, reportedly a policeman, being deliberately run over several times by a black SUV. She refused to give us her name or disclose her religious affiliation because she said she fears for her safety.


My husband shot this video on Thursday, March 17 from the balcony of our apartment, which is near the district of Seef, west of Manama. I was standing right behind him. Things were very tense and dangerous outside so everyone was staying at home and watching what was going on from their window.


At one point, we heard a car pull up very quickly so we went out on the balcony. There, we saw the occupants of a black SUV open the trunk of the car and pull an unconscious man out. Even if they were far away, we recognised his black policeman uniform. That’s when my husband started filming.


The rest you see in the video: the black SUV and another car began repeatedly, deliberately running over the body. [She breaks down in tears]. I’m sorry, I get upset just thinking about it, I can’t believe I witnessed such a horrible, horrible thing. Afterwards, a group of men came up to the lifeless body and began kicking and jumping on it [as shown in another video of the incident, aired by the state channel Bahrain TV ]. But we couldn’t keep filming, it was too horrible.


I believe the occupants of the car were anti-government protesters who were acting out of revenge for the government intervention. The protesters say they are not violent but that is not true. They have an agenda, and it is not democratic, it is religious: the Shiites want to impose an Islamist government like in Iran. They attacked a policeman, they have targeted foreigners [here, Gaya is refering to unofficial reports of Shiites targeting Sunni immigrants from India and Pakistan]. Now they will attack anyone, I am very afraid.”


According to one of Our Observers in Bahrain, this video was shot in Manama on March 14, as police unsuccessfully tried to clear the streets of protesters before launching the March 15 crackdown.