(Beirut) – Bahrain authorities should investigate police actions during recent demonstrations that injured one activist and narrowly missed injuring a journalist.
On June 27, 2012, after dispersing a demonstration, riot police threw a teargas canister that injured Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights activist, in the leg, she told Human Rights Watch. In a separate incident, Reem Khalifa, an Associated Press reporter, told Human Rights Watch that a policeman threw a stun grenade at her on June 29 while she and other journalists were standing a few hundred meters from another demonstration site. Khalifa was not injured. On June 22, riot police also fired tear gas and threw stun bombs at close range to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Manama.
“This makes three times in recent days that the police have apparently thrown objects at close range that could very well have caused serious injuries,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to open an independent investigation, and if it’s shown that the police deliberately targeted a journalist and peaceful protester, hold whoever is responsible to account.”
The June 27 episode took place after riot police dispersed a demonstration in the village of Buri, near Issa Town. Al-Khawaja said that a policeman fired the tear gas canister directly at her from a distance of “seven to ten meters,” hitting her in the right leg. The Associated Press reported that “photos taken shortly after the shooting showed al-Khawaja limping with blood trickling down her right leg.” She said that doctors have put a cast on her leg and have recommended long bed rest.
On April 21, authorities had detained al-Khawaja on charges of “holding up traffic, illegal gathering, and assaulting a public employee” after she conducted a one-person sit-in on a main road. She was seeking the release of her father, the prominent protest leader and rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. She is facing several charges relating to participation in “illegal gatherings.”
Khalifa told Human Rights Watch that three police cars stopped near her on the main al-Budaya’ highway on June 29 while she was talking on the phone with a colleague. “A policeman in the second car who was not wearing any riot police gear threw a stun grenade directly at me,” she said. “He was just two to three meters away.”
A colleague, who witnessed the incident but did not want to be identified, told Human Rights Watch: “She stepped aside before the stun grenade exploded; otherwise it would have hit her legs.”
On June 22, riot police used teargas and sound bombs to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Bilad al-Qadeem neighborhood in Manama, called by Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition group. Four witnesses told Human Rights Watch that riot police shot “flash-bang” grenades and teargas directly at the protesters without provocation.
Riot police injured four people, including Ali al-Mowali, who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired from a distance of just a few meters, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. He is being treated at the Salmaniya Medical Complex.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bahrain must protect the right of all to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Bahrain also is obliged to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which require that law enforcement officers use force only to the extent necessary to achieve lawful purposes, and wherever possible, only after issuing warnings that it is about to be used. The principles also require governments to “ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law.”