Tear gas causing death, serious injuries in Bahrain
Bahrain Linda Gradstein/The Media – Last year, Miriam Abdullah was looking forward to the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, and had planned a festive meal for her family.
But that celebration never happened. Her 14-year-old son Ali was on his way home from the mosque when he encountered a demonstration calling for “freedom and dignity,” she said.
“The youth were not doing anything and the police fired on them from very close-range,” she told The Media Line. “Ali was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and he became a martyr.”
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights say that 35 people have been killed either by being hit with tear gas or from respiratory complications from the tear gas. They also say that dozens of people have lost an eye after being hit by a tear gas canister.
“Mohammed (not his real name) attended a peaceful protest in al-Juffair, a Shi’ite village, very close to where the US Fifth Fleet is housed,” Said Yousef of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told The Media Line. “The police came and fired from a short distance and he lost his eye.”
Almost every night, the acrid smell of tear gas hangs in the air all over the tiny Gulf state of Bahrain. The country’s Sunni minority is using tear gas to tamp down protests by the Shi’ite majority, especially in villages around the capital of Manama.
“We don’t call it tear gas, we call it toxic gas,” Dr. Taha al-Derazi told The Media Line. “This gas can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, muscle cramps and seizures,”
The Sunni rulers of Bahrain have cracked down hard on the pro-democracy protests that have come to be called the Arab Spring. Human rights groups say that the way they are using tear gas violates human rights.
“They do not use it to disperse protestors but like a gun,” Said Yousef, of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) told The Media Line. “They shoot it directly at people’s heads.”
Dr. Terazi said that police also yank open windows of people’s homes and cars and shoot tear gas directly inside. Tear gas is meant to be fired in the open air and to quickly disperse. It can be lethal when fired at short-range.
Some Bahrainis are even moving to be away from neighborhoods with frequent demonstrations and frequent tear gas.
“I moved from Budaiya Road, where I was living, to a safer area when I was in my last trimester of pregnancy,” Amira Hussein, a journalist wrote The Media Line in an email. “I also don’t go out on weekend because that is when the tear gas bonanza kicks off.”
Now Physicians for Human Rights has unleashed a new report on the use of tear gas by Bahraini authorities.
“So-called tear gas, often considered a crowd control method with no lasting harmful effects, can cause permanent injuries, miscarriages and even fatalities as used by Bahrain’s security forces,” the report warns. “Those tactics include firing tear gas canisters directly at civilians or into their cars, houses or other closed spaces where toxic effects are greatly exaggerated.”
The report documents a number of examples based on interviews with more than 100 Bahrainis. In one case, a 27 year old bystander suffered a fractured skull and intracranial bleeding when struck in the head with a tear gas canister. In another, an asthmatic man routinely exposed to tear gas died of respiratory failure.
Said Yousef of the BCHR said the tear gas comes from the United States, France and Holland. He urged these countries to stop selling tear gas to the government.
The US has hesitated to be critical of the Bahraini government. Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet, which keeps an eye on Iran just 120 miles across the Persian Gulf. The US considers Bahrain an important strategic ally and has provided the government with $20 million dollars annually in aid.
Human rights groups want the US to pressure the government of Bahrain to stop using tear gas.