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Tear Gas or Lethal Gas? Bahrain’s Death Toll Mounts to 34

by on March 16, 2012

Protestors in Bahrain take cover from tear gas, December 2011
Bahraini anti-government protesters run for cover from tear gas during clashes with riot police near the headquarters of the main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, in Zinj Village, west of Manama, on December 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

 

Based on interviews with local physicians and analysis of news reports, the Government of Bahrain’s oppressive use of tear gas in recent months has reportedly killed both young and old civilians in their homes and in the streets of Manama, the Gulf Kingdom’s capital.

PHR has compiled a list of 34 reported tear-gas-related deaths in Bahrain since the uprising began a year ago. Based on media and other accounts, most civilians who allegedly died from tear gas reportedly have suffered complications from gas inhalation; at least three civilians reportedly died after security forces fired metal tear gas canisters (nearly the size and half the weight of a can of Coke) from grenade launchers into crowds.

Government forces not only assault unarmed street protesters with tear gas during the day, they also attack innocent women, children, and the elderly with tear gas in their homes at night.

Fourteen-year-old Yaseen Jassim Al Asfoor reportedly died from tear gas inhalation after security forces threw three tear gas canisters into his home.

In another recent incident, an elderly woman named Sakeena Marhoon apparently died from repeated exposure to tear gas in her home.

The Government’s use of tear gas is so widespread and excessive that many families are now forced to stuff towels in doors and cracks in windows to protect them from the toxic clouds of gas outside.

Victims of these indefensible deaths and their families are not receiving the justice they deserve. Not only has the government failed to investigate or prosecute any law enforcement officials for employing such excessive force, but authorities also reportedly prohibit doctors from listing tear gas as a cause of death. Instead, coerced doctors have reportedly cited natural or unknown causes of death for some tear-gas related casualties.

While PHR has not analyzed tear gas in Bahrain, our report shows the use of it in confined spaces has deleterious and toxic effects (pdf).

The 1989 JAMA study found that detonating tear gas in small enclosed spaces creates a toxic concentration, which can cause permanent damage to the human body, including chemical pneumonitis, heart failure, fatal pulmonary edema, and death.

Last year PHR investigators in Bahrain found disconcerting evidence that Bahraini authorities may be using unidentified chemical agents in addition to tear gas. Doctors reported to PHR that they had treated patients exposed to tear gas who exhibited atypical symptoms, including non-epileptic seizures and hysteria. Further, Bahraini authorities at the Ministry of Health deny doctors’ requests to analyze the residue and chemical content of exploded tear gas canisters.

The US Department of State condemns the excessive use of force, and the 2012 omnibus spending bill (pdf) includes language requiring the Secretary of State to report on “any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful, and organized dissent.”

Well known to Bahrain’s Shia population who wake up each morning to find their streets littered with empty tear gas canisters, the Government of Bahrain acquires tear gas from Pennsylvania-based companies, whose “USA” label is stamped on each blue canister.

With nearly a fourth of all casualties occurring in February 2012, the US government must press Bahraini authorities to stop their lethal use of tear gas against innocent civilians and abide by international standards as well as their own national code of conduct for law enforcement officials, for the proper use of riot-control agents.

Tear Gas-related Civilian Deaths in Bahrain, Mar 2011-Feb 2012
Fig 1. The figure depicts the number of reported tear gas-related deaths per month in Bahrain over the past 12 months, based on our review of available media. While in the first 9 months after the uprising, reported tear gas deaths remained between 0 and 2 per month, there has been an apparent sharp increase in deaths over the past three months. In November there were 3 deaths attributed to tear gas, and this trend continued in January with 6 deaths and February with 7 deaths.

 


Places: Bahrain

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Submitted by Ahmed - Citizens for Bahrain at 06:49 AM on March 22, 2012
This is an issue that should concern Bahraini citizens, particularly as – according to the figures – many of these people died in their own homes. Media reports accuse the Bahraini police of firing tear gas in enclosed spaces or using it excessively – a serious charge at a time when the Government is making progress on other fronts to implement the Independent Commission of Inquiry’s (BICI) recommendations. However, looking at the statistics on which these claims were based, my confusion increased. A main source is the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – I’d hope the UN realizes that this is a major opposition grouping, not an impartial observer. Another set of statistics are held by the more credible Physicians for Human Rights organization. However, their sources are other organizations (largely BCHR) or the media (Press TV being the main media reporting on such issues). The curious thing is that the number of alleged deaths from tear gas, according to these sources, has increased to around six each month for 2012; while the statistics claimed 0-2 tear gas related deaths for most of 2011. Why the sudden epidemic of victims? Over the same period, only one person seems to been killed as a direct result of the protests since the beginning of the year (Mirza Fadl al-Obeidy, 2 March, reportedly hit by tear gas canister). If you look at the BCHR's detailed breakdown of casualties, these include numerous people who died a matter of weeks after they supposedly inhaled the tear gas; several where there were disputes between the doctor, the family and the authorities about the cause of death; a few severely injured since the events last year; and a number with complications related to asthma or genetic illnesses. In conclusion there are few cases uncontrovertibly attributable to tear gas. We know that – if you take Press TV and Al-Alam TV seriously – there have been no natural deaths in Bahrain over the last year, and everybody who died in their sleep has been highlighted by these Iranian propaganda channels as “martyrs of the barbaric Saudi-backed regime in Manama”. We hope that - given the uncharitable failure of the Bahraini security forces to provide the opposition with real martyrs in recent months - organizations like the BCHR haven’t taken to the same propagandistic methods of logging anyone who dies as a “tear gas victim”. According to the BCHR’s own statistics one youth burnt himself to death while burning tires and another woman committed suicide following depression – attributed to the traumatic impact of the disturbances. A difficult question has to be asked here; the opposition has chosen to restrict its activities increasingly to opposition strongholds; villages like Sehla, Muqsha and Sitra. Did hardliner opposition leaders ever question the terrible impact that their activities would have on their own communities? Many of these villages were already poor and underdeveloped, but they’ve now become hotbeds for daily tire-burning sessions, continual confrontations with the police, vandalism, roadblocks and radicalization of the young. What must it be like for children being brought up in such an atmosphere where they are encouraged to make Molotovs and participate in roadblocks and violent disturbances; or where their parents tell visiting TV channels how proud they’d be for their children to become martyrs. Where the police forces have been heavy-handed they should be held to account and the opposition's behavious does not excuse the police's failings - However, if a 75 year-old pensioner or an unborn baby die in traumatic circumstances where tear gas has been used, is there a degree to which the opposition themselves are culpable for bringing such suffering upon the weakest in their society? At what point did the unborn baby or aged woman consent to putting their lives at risk in the cause of bringing down the Government? In the final instance, we request clarity from the authorities. Following implementation of the BICI’s recommendations we expect transparency over such incidents: What happened and who should be held accountable. If nothing else, so that the opposition time after time can’t be the only side making its case to the international community with the aim of blackening the name of Bahrain.
Submitted by bahrain people at 09:51 AM on March 19, 2012
Help us, They're killing people, It's not tear gas, It's poison Yellow, green and Blue poisonning gas. They throw it inside our homes.