Questions about Bahrain shooting

The death of a 22-year-old Bahraini man early on Saturday raises new questions about the regime's declared commitment to avoiding brutality when dealing with demonstrators.

Ahmed Ismael Hassan (above) – described as a citizen journalist who regularly filmed protests in the kingdom – was shot in the thigh and died later in hospital. Apparently the bullet had severed an artery.

EAWorldView has an account of what happened, based on interviews with witnesses:

On Friday night, at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) a peaceful protest started in the village of Salmabad, behind the graveyard, near the roundabout on the road. In less than 30 minutes, three riot police SUVs dispersed the protests, knocking down the roadblocks that been placed by demonstraors the road and trying to run over the youths. One of the protesters fell down and the riot police gathered around him; he was beaten, arrested, and taken away.

After the police departed, the protesters regrouped and started march to the main road. About midnight, a civilian Toyota Land Cruiser appeared and a man inside fired five or six rounds, forcing the protesters to retreat inside the village beside the graveyard. When the dark grey Land Cruiser saw them, it tried to break into the village, hitting the barriers. Five or six more shots were fired, with the bullets hitting a building and a street light.

The Land Cruiser left the village and parked on the roundabout near AMA University, as the protesters went out again to the main road in front of the graveyard. Ahmed Ismail was standing in a yard near the main road. The Land Cruiser was pointing red laser beams at the youths.

About 12:30 a.m., the protesters decided to return to the village. As they departed, a man inside the Land Cruiser fired again. Ahmed Ismail Hassan was shot ...

The attackers are said to have been in civilian clothes and the opposition al-Wefaq party has blamed a local militia linked to the regime. The authorities have announced a murder investigation.

The attack comes at a time when Bahrain's security forces are under pressure to clean up their act, and the use of unofficial pro-government vigilantes (also seen in Syria and Egypt) could be one way of circumventing that. If so, it's a worrying development.

Last November, a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), established by the king, urged the government to establish a “standing independent body” to examine complaints of torture or ill-treatment, excessive use of force, or other abuses committed by the authorities. The government has so far resisted this, and complaints are instead being dealt with by the public prosecutor.

The prosecutor is currently investigating 48 officers in connection with 107 cases, which include four deaths, but he doesn't appear to be pursuing them very vigorously. In a report last week, Human Rights Watch said: 

Authorities say they have so far prosecuted 10 security officers in connection with the deaths of six people – four of whom died as a result of torture in government custody and two during the police crackdown on protesters. Seven of the accused face manslaughter charges and a maximum of seven years imprisonment, according to article 336 of the Penal Code. The other three have been charged with failing to report the crime to their superiors and face imprisonment or a fine.

The 10 included five Pakistanis employed in Bahrain’s security forces whom the public prosecutor charged with the April 2011 torture and deaths in custody of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer and Zakaria al-Asherri. Two have been charged with manslaughter and the other three with failing to report the torture to their superior.

In addition, authorities are reportedly prosecuting two Bahraini officers from the National Security Agency in connection with the death of a prominent businessman, Abd al-Karim Fakhrawi, on March 5, 2011. The BICI said that NSA had “failed to conduct an effective investigation into Mr. Fakhrawi’s death, which would satisfy the relevant obligations under international law.”

The public prosecutor also brought charges against a Bahraini police lieutenant – the most senior security official known to have been charged thus far – for the shotgun shooting death of Hani Abd al-Aziz Jumaa in March 2011. Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the death of Jumaa at the time found that his attacker or attackers shot him several times at close range. During a court session in late February 2012, the lawyer of the accused officer told the court that he was “acting in self-defence.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 April 2012.