Bahrain’s Continued Weaponizing of Tear Gas

In August 2012, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported on the extensive, persistent, and disproportionate use of toxic chemical agents by anti-riot police against civilians in Bahrain. Police weaponized tear gas in order to crush protests, leading to at least 39 confirmed deaths since 2011 and causing long-term deleterious consequences for those repeatedly exposed to the toxic chemicals in enclosed spaces. PHR is once again concerned about an escalation of violence and the use of toxic chemical agents against protesters as latest developments point to continued instability in Bahrain.

Security forces in Bahrain have regularly cracked down on demonstrators since pro-democracy protests began in February 2011. Police continue to use force to disperse protesters, with recent reports in early October indicating that anti-riot police used buckshot, sound grenades, and tear gas against demonstrators following the death of a political detainee. There have been other sources of tension as well – in the past month, scores of activists have been sentenced in unfair trials, with allegations that authorities used torture to extract confessions. On September 29, 50 Shiite activists received sentences of up to 15 years in prison for their involvement in the 14 February Coalition, a youth-led opposition movement. Al-Wefaq, a political opposition party, has accused the government of escalatory security methods and pulled out of a national dialogue in September because of the arrest of one of its leaders. The United States has voiced concerns over both the recent unrest and lack of progress in the national dialogue that was agreed upon following the violent demonstrations in 2011.

A leaked document, released on October 16, 2013 and publicized by Bahrain Watch, has renewed concerns that the Bahraini government is stockpiling tear gas to crackdown on protesters. The document is a Ministry of Interior tender that shows the country’s plans to import 1.6 million tear gas canisters, 90,000 tear gas grenades, and 145,000 sound and flash grenades, totaling more than the entire Bahraini population of 1.3 million people. Given regular protests in the country and the authorities’ sustained inappropriate and excessive use of force against them, there is little doubt that this new purchase order will target protesters. And based on Bahrain’s aforementioned abuse of tear gas, PHR is seriously concerned that Bahraini forces will again use tear gas to punish protesters, inflict suffering, and suppress dissent.

PHR reiterates its call to the government of Bahrain to cease the use of tear gas in the country until the government conducts a full and impartial investigation into tear gas abuse, re-trains security forces in its proper application, and holds perpetrators of excessive or improper use of force accountable. Given the recent history of rampant tear gas abuse in the country, PHR strongly urges a suspension of the shipment of toxic chemical agents to Bahrain until these basic benchmarks are met, after which the government of Bahrain must adhere to United Nations guidelines on the use of force regarding any future use of tear gas or related substances.

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