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.
A’ali, Bahrain – The evening call to prayer in this village on Thursday was punctuated by the explosions of sound bombs fired by Bahraini police.
Tear gas canisters arced overhead as residents crouched on their rooftops and huddled in doorways, chanting allahu akhbar (“God is greatest”) and yasqat Hamad (“down with Hamad”). “This is Bahrain now,” one teenaged boy said, wearing a scarf over his face to shield his identity.
The violence began moments after the funeral of Abdulnabi Kadhem, a local man who was killed here yesterday, allegedly when police jeeps drove him off the road. Hundreds of protesters, some of them throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, marched from the cemetery to the main road, where a large group of police had been waiting all afternoon.
Police responded with a volley of tear gas that sent mourners and protesters alike fleeing into A’ali’s back alleys. Many ducked into houses, where women offered vinegar and perfume to ease the sting of the gas.
“This is Bassiouni’s tear gas,” one woman shouted, between gasps of a perfume-drenched tissue.
She was referring to Cherif Bassiouni, the Egyptian judge who headed the official inquiry into this year’s human-rights abuses in Bahrain.
The commission released its final report on Wednesday afternoon, handing a copy to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in a ceremony at one of his palaces. It accused Bahraini security forces of numerous abuses: torture, wrongly killing unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests, and more.
It recommended a number of reforms, including investigations into torture and human rights training for the police and army.
“These are his reforms,” another woman said bitterly.
‘Bassiouni says you are killers’
Several people collapsed from tear gas inhalation on Thursday afternoon, and residents said a number of people were arrested. Police could also be seen trying to break into at least one home to conduct a search.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Vall reports from A’ali village
These sorts of small-scale clashes have become a routine part of life over the last few months in Bahrain. Police have effectively sealed off A’Ali and other villages, which prevents protesters from massing in one location, like they did in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout earlier this year.
So they provoke the police stationed outside their villages, and the police inevitably respond, often with overwhelming force.
The actual funeral procession was peaceful: Thousands of people marched through the streets of A’Ali, chanting “Down with Hamad”,”Leave, you murderer”, and “The people demand the overthrow of the regime”.
Kadhem died on Wednesday morning. Witnesses said the police, who often drive at high speed down the narrow streets of Bahrain’s villages, drove Kadhem’s car off the road and then collided with him.
Bahrain’s interior ministry said Kadhem drove into a house, but the damage to his car, which was crumpled on the sides, was inconsistent with that statement.
Dozens of police jeeps had gathered outside A’Ali in the hours before the funeral, clearly anticipating a confrontation.
They tried to bar at least one foreign journalist from entering the village to cover the funeral.
“Bassiouni says you are torturers,” one man shouted at the police through a loudspeaker.
There was mostly cynicism about Bassiouni’s report, though, among the mourners in A’Ali on Thursday.
“The report is no good,” Mohsen al-Ali said. “It should remove Khalifa from power. It should give us a chance to work in the police, in the army,” an opportunity many Bahraini Shias believe they are denied because of official discrimination.
He was referring to Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, the prime minister and the king’s uncle. He is also, by virtue of controlling Bahrain’s security forces, a reviled figure among many members of the opposition.
Many people in A’Ali levelled similar criticisms at Bassiouni’s report.
It went further than many people expected in documenting human-rights abuses, though it does not blame any senior government officials for authorising abuses; officers are often described as “acting independently” or against orders.
But none of the mourners thought the report would lead to political reforms, which the Bahraini opposition has demanded for years, in response to what they call systemic discrimination.
The opposition had hoped for a sweeping gesture or two from the king: a general amnesty, perhaps, or a cabinet reshuffle.
But the king made no such announcements, and 24 hours after the report’s release, no ministers have been sacked.
“So the people who will implement this report are the same ones who committed these abuses?” Ali al-Sabah, a mourner, asked before the funeral.
Even the Wefaq party, Bahrain’s largest opposition party, which is often very hesitant to criticise of the government, said there would be no political reconciliation until the cabinet was replaced.
“We don’t have a yes or no response to the report. The good things in it we will take,” Khalil al-Marzooq, a senior official with Al Wefaq, said on Thursday. “But we will not work or co-operate with the present government, and we demand for its resignation.”