(Manama) - The Bahraini government should urgently investigate the killing of at least 18 people during violent crackdowns since protests began on February 14, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Most were killed by security forces using excessive force, namely crowd-control equipment at extremely close range and live gunfire, Human Rights Watch said. Four government security officers were also killed, according to the Interior Ministry.
The authorities admitted holding four missing persons in the Bahrain Defense Force hospital only after they had succumbed to their injuries. This raises serious concerns regarding the missing persons' treatment and whether authorities are holding other people without notifying their families, Human Rights Watch said.
"Bahraini security forces have frequently shown a reckless disregard for human life during crackdowns on protesters," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Firing birdshot pellets at close range is not crowd control - it can be murder."
At least 15 people have died since riot police and troops initiated a second round of offensives against anti-government protesters on March 15, Human Rights Watch said. They include Ahmed Farhan, age 24, and Mohammed Eklas, a 50 year-old Bangladeshi citizen, who died in Sitra on March 15. Photographs of Farhan's body show the back of his head blown open and an empty brain cavity, suggesting that he had been shot at close range. According to media reports, Eklas was run over by a vehicle while trying to help some women during the crackdown, but Human Rights Watch could not independently verify this account.
A third Sitra resident, Isa al-Radhi, 46, who had been missing since that day, was declared dead on March 19, when authorities called his family and told them to collect his body.
Security forces killed at least three protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, during demonstrations on the morning of March 16. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces initially used teargas, rubber bullets, and birdshot guns but later shot live ammunition rounds in an effort to regain full control of the areas close to the roundabout.
Jaafar Abd al-Ali Salman, 41, Jaafar Mayoof, 30, and Ahmad al-Arnoot, 22, all died from wounds received on March 16. Media reports indicate that Salman and Mayoof were hit by live ammunition, while al-Arnoot's injuries were from a birdshot gun. Stephan Abraham, an Indian national who worked as a security guard in a nearby building, died later that day after he was apparently struck by a stray bullet at his place of work around 8 p.m.
The security forces fired live ammunition during security sweeps on March 15, 16, and in subsequent days, Human Rights Watch said.
The latest victim of the government crackdown was 71-year-old Isa Mohammed Ali Abdulla, who died of asphyxiation from teargas used against demonstrators in the village of Maameer on March 25, Al-Wasat, an independent daily, reported. Abdulla was at home when teargas used by government security forces entered his house, causing his death, the report said. Instead of properly investigating the death and the security forces' use of teargas, the Interior Ministry issued a statement that evening declaring that Abdulla had died of "natural causes."
Human Rights Watch expressed concern for the government's failure to inform families of injured persons in its custody, four of whom later died in the hospital. On March 19, residents found Hani Abd al-Aziz Jumah, 32, lying in a pool of blood after being shot point-blank by riot police, and took him to a local hospital. Two masked police officers accompanied medics and picked him up in an ambulance several hours later to transfer him to the Bahraini Defense Force (BDF) hospital. Jumah's father called the BDF hospital on March 20 and 21 to inquire about his son's condition, but officials denied he was there. On March 24, Jumah's family received a call from police stating that he had died and that they could pick up his body at Salmaniyya Medical Complex the next day.
Three other families received the bodies of loved ones who had been missing for several days and died under suspicious circumstances.
- Isa al-Radhi, 45, had been missing since March 15, when security forces attacked Sitra. On March 19, officials from the BDF hospital called his family and told them to collect his body. A medical forensic expert consulted by Human Rights Watch reviewed photos of al-Radhi's body and concluded that his injuries could have been caused by an "auto-pedestrian collision" but that "assaultive injuries cannot be ruled out." He also had birdshot pellet wounds.
- Bahia al-Aradi, 51, had been missing since March 16. Al-Aradi was driving her car when she spoke with her sister on that day. A witness said that al-Aradi told her sister that she was close to al-Qadam village, that she heard gunshots, and tried to get off the road. She was not heard from again. Al-Aradi's family contacted several hospitals, including BDF, but was told that she was not there. On March 19 authorities notified al-Aradi's family that she was on life support at the BDF hospital, and allowed her brother to visit her for a few minutes. On March 20, the hospital announced that she had died of her injuries. At least one bullet had entered al-Aradi's head from behind. There was no exit wound.
- Abdul-Rasoul al-Hujairi, a 38-year-old medical professional at the Salmaniyya Medical Complex, was last seen on March 19, when he went out to run some errands. Al-Hujairi's family called several police stations and hospitals but did not find him. On March 19, his body was reported found in a remote area in Awali, according to media reports. The authorities contacted his family on March 20 and told them to pick up his body at Salmaniyya Medical Complex. The exact cause of death is not known, but doctors who spoke to Human Rights Watch said al-Hujairi had contusions and severe bruising on his body, consistent both with beatings and being hit by a car.
The authorities performed autopsies on both al-Radhi and al-Hujairi before releasing their bodies to the families. It is not clear why these autopsies were performed. Family members who spoke to Human Rights Watch said they suspected that al-Aradi and al-Hujair were killed at or close to checkpoints set up by the police, military, or armed gangs.
According to the Interior Ministry, as of March 23, four people affiliated with the government security services were killed during clashes with anti-government protesters. Government records show that Ahmad Rashid al-Moraysi, 30, died as a result of being "run over by an unidentified car" in Sitra on March 15. Mohammed Faruq Abd al-Samad al-Balooshi, and Kashef Ahmad Munthur, 21, also died after being run over by "unidentified" cars in Manama. Jawad Ali Kadhem al-Shamlan, 47, a Shia community officer, was struck by a bullet during the March 16 crackdown on protesters by security forces in Manama, the Interior Ministry said. Human Rights Watch has seen no evidence to indicate that protesters possessed or used firearms, which suggests that Kadhem may have been killed as a result of a stray bullet fired by security forces. Authorities released his body to his family on March 20.
"We are deeply concerned about people going missing and turning up dead in the military hospital, and whether more cases have gone unreported," Stork said. "The authorities should provide all families a full and immediate accounting of those in custody, and not wait until they are dead to inform their families."
Human Rights Watch previously documented the remaining seven reported deaths implicating the security forces, which occurred during attacks on protesters from February 14 to 18. Human Rights Watch found that six of the seven were shot with birdshot guns at very close range. The seventh, Abd al-Ridha Buhameed, was shot in the head with live ammunition on February 18, and died on March 21.
Witnesses also told Human Rights Watch that another two people died of teargas inhalation after security forces attacked protesters at the Pearl Roundabout March 16. Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to confirm the identities of these individuals.
Annex of Confirmed Deaths Linked to Protest-Related Violence Since February 14, 2011 (includes date and cause of death; * indicates Ministry of Interior or community officers):
1. Ali Abd al-Hadi al-Mushaima, 23 (February 14; Birdshot)
2. Fadel Salman Matrook, 32 (February 15; Birdshot)
3. Mahmood Makki Ali Butaaki, 23 (February 17; Birdshot)
4. Ali Mansoor Ahmed Khudair, 52 (February 17; Birdshot)
5. Isa Abd al-Hussein Abu-Nidal, 60 (February 17; Birdshot)
6. Ali Ahmed Abdulla al-Momen, 23 (February 17; Birdshot)
7. Abd al-Redha Mohammed Hasan Buhamid, 33 (February 21; Live Ammunition)
8. Ahmed Farhan Ali Farhan, 24 (March 15; Birdshot or other Anti-Riot Device)
9. Mohammed Eklas (Bangladeshi) (March 15; Possible Auto-Pedestrian Collision)
10. Ahmed Rashid al-Moraysi, 30 (March 15; Auto-Pedestrian Collision)*
11. Jaafar Mohammed Abdul-Ali Salman, 41 (March 16; Live Ammunition)
12. Jaafar Abdulla Mayoof, 30 (March 16; Possible Live Ammunition and Birdshot)
13. Ahmed Abdulla Hasan al-Arnoot, 22 (March 16, Birdshot)
14. Stephan Abraham (Indian) (March 16; Live Ammunition)
15. Mohammed Faruq Abd al-Samad al-Balooshi (Pakistani) (March 16; Auto-Pedestrian Collision)*
16. Kashef Munther, 21 (March 16; Auto-Pedestrian Collision)*
17. Isa Abd al-Radhi, 45 (March 19; Live Ammunition)
18. Jawad Mohammad-Ali Kadhem al-Shamlan, 47 (March 20; Live Ammunition)*
19. Abd al-Rasoul Hasan Ali al-Hujairi, 38 (March 20; Possible Auto-Pedestrian Collision, Beating)
20. Bahia Rasoul al-Aradi, 51 (March 20, Live Ammunition)
21. Hani Abd al-Aziz Jumah, 32 (March 24, Birdshot)
22. Isa Mohammed Ali Abdulla, 71 (March 25, Teargas Inhalation)