Rights Group Warns Against Bahrain’s Use of Tear Gas Against Protesters
CAIRO — A human rights group said Tuesday that Bahrain, which has been criticized for cracking down on opposition protesters, might “misuse” more than a million canisters of tear gas that the government is reportedly trying to buy.
The group, Human Rights Watch, said that Bahraini security forces had “repeatedly used tear gas disproportionately and sometimes unlawfully in suppressing antigovernment demonstrations” since 2011, when protests against Bahrain’s monarchy erupted as part of the wave of uprisings sweeping the Middle East.
Tear gas misuse “has been implicated in more than a dozen deaths and serious injuries,” the group said.
The warning came after a watchdog group, Bahrain Watch, released documents last week showing what the group said was a public tender for 1.6 million tear gas shells, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 sound and flash grenades. The tender, dated June 16, was issued by Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, which oversees the riot police.
During almost three years of unrest, Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy has given little quarter to its opposition, led by members of the island nation’s Shiite majority, which is pressing for broader rights and political inclusion. Bahrain’s most active dissidents have been imprisoned or exiled. Street protests that spring up almost daily are quickly dispersed by the riot police, often using tear gas, birdshot and sound grenades.
A report last year by Physicians for Human Rights, which has been sharply critical of the Bahraini government, said the “extensive and persistent use” of tear gas in Bahrain was “unprecedented in the 100-year history of tear gas use against civilians.” The group found that the authorities fired projectiles at protesters at close range, causing grievous injuries, and used tear gas against civilians in their homes or cars.
A press officer for the Bahraini government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the planned purchase. In the past, the government has said that its use of tear gas adheres to international standards of riot control and is employed to disperse youths who increasingly use incendiary devices and other weapons against the police.
The United States has withheld licenses for tear gas exports to Bahrain, which hosts the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bahrain Watch said it believed that several South Korean companies had supplied most of the tear gas used by the government since 2011.