Protesters trying to reach Pearl Square. Photo sent in by one of our Observers in Bahrain, Anmar.
Using rubber bullets and tear gas, security forces rebuffed protesters who tried to reach Manama’s iconic Pearl Square Friday afternoon. Several hundred protesters had branched off from an earlier massive protest, during which security forces had not intervened. Our Observer, who was among the protesters, tells us why Pearl Square is so important to the opposition.
The day had begun calmly. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters peacefully marched through the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama early Friday afternoon, condemning its rulers for crushing repeated protests over the past year.
The Shiite-led opposition has repeatedly called for constitutional changes that would limit the power of the ruling Sunni royalty, which currently appoints all major posts in the country’s government.
March organisers decided not to lead participants to Pearl Square – which was heavily guarded by police – but instead to a site they call Freedom Square, just outside the city.
However, after the demonstrators left Freedom Square, hundreds of them disregarded the organisers’ wishes and headed toward Pearl Square. On the way there, they were intercepted by security forces, who used force to disperse them.
Protesters being tear-gassed by security forces near Pearl Square. Photo sent by our Observer, Anmar.
“Pearl Square is not just a physical place for us – it’s a symbol, so it’s hard to stay away”
Mohammed al-Maskati is president of the human rights group BYSHR.
During the opposition march, security forces did nothing; they just watched us walk by. But after it ended, when some of us headed to Pearl Square, they blocked our way before we got anywhere near it, and within minutes were spraying us with massive amounts of tear gas and started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd. They used sound horns, too. I was on the front lines, and soon couldn’t breathe; some of my fellow protesters guided me out of the crowd and into a car. Many people were taken away for treatment – in private homes, not in hospitals, because we don’t trust the authorities. It wasn’t just men who suffered – there were women and children in the crowd, too.The march organisers told us not to go to Pearl Square, but it’s hard for people who were tortured, who lost loved ones, to stay away from the place where it all started. Pearl Square is not just a physical space – it’s a symbol. It’s where the security forces first attacked us when we started protesting last year. It’s where we go to remind the authorities that we have not forgotten all their victims. [At least 35 people have been killed in violence related to protests in the past year. The government has also acknowledged that security forces used torture and excessive force against protesters who were detained]. But they refuse to let us go there – it’s become a red line for them. Until they let us into Pearl Square, there’s little hope that they will move toward becoming a democracy.”
Photos of the anti-government march earlier in the day