Two very different Bahrains, 10km apart

The Bahraini government has released a report on this year’s alleged human rights abuses, just a few kilometres from where protesters are once again violently clashing with police.

I’m writing from A’Ali, a predominantly Shiite village in the centre of Bahrain, which was the site of clashes all morning between anti-government protesters and the police.

A few hours later, 10 kilometres down the road, the Bahraini government has released the official report into this year’s alleged human rights abuses. The government hopes the report is a chance to turn the page and “move forward,” as a spokesman said earlier this week.

Ask anyone here in A’Ali, and they’ll tell you those abuses are still going on.

Witnesses here said a convoy of police vehicles sped through the village this morning, forced a man’s car off the road, and crashed into him, killing him. I did not witness the accident, but I’ve seen Bahraini police speed through other villages, tearing recklessly down narrow streets at high speed. It’s a common occurrence. (Just on Saturday, in fact, another Bahraini, a 16-year-old boy, was run over by police vehicles in the suburb of Juffair.)

The Bahraini government issued a statement calling it a simple traffic accident, a car colliding with a house. But the damage did not match that description: The car was crumpled on the sides, not the the front, as you’d expect from a head-on collision.

Protesters came out in the streets afterwards, chanting yasqat Hamad (“down with Hamad,” the king) and throwing paint bombs at police vehicles. The police responded with tear gas and sound bombs.

My colleague Matthew Cassel shot this video of protesters reacting to being tear gassed:

I went into one makeshift clinic a few minutes after it was raided. I saw sound bombs on the floor inside, and the air still reeked of tear gas. The women inside, who did not want to be photographed for fear of the consequences, said they had been roughly searched by police, and that the medics providing care were detained.

We also saw a Bahraini photojournalist, Mazen Mahdi, arrested by police while trying to do his job. He was loaded into a jeep and driven away. (He later tweeted that he’d been released, because the police couldn’t figure out what to charge him with.)

The government calls the official report an “unprecedented and historic step” and hopes it will open the door to political reconciliation. But unless it follows the report with significant concessions – ending the regular police raids in the villages, declaring an amnesty for prisoners – protesters here say they’ll keep coming out.