Two migrant workers were killed and a third seriously injured in five explosions in two areas of Bahrain’s capital Manama today.
The bombings came less than a week after the Sunni monarchy banned all public protests in a move that observers feared would play into the hands of more militant opposition factions.
“As always, we condemn violence,” said Maryam al-Khawaja (right), acting head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, “but, given the Bahraini authorities’ background in spreading disinformation, we call for an independent investigation into the deaths of the two migrant workers.”
Matar Matar of the opposition Shiite party Wefaq said he doubted that opposition activists were behind Monday’s attacks….
“This incident is strange – why would anyone target workers?” he said. “I’m worried that police and military are losing control of their units or it is [preparation] before declaring martial law.”
Leading Shiite clerics had called on followers to avoid escalating the conflict with the government. He suggested the police or military might have been responsible, or a rogue unit.
The explosions are “definitely a side effect of cracking down on peaceful protest,” said Claire Beaugrand, Gulf senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. “The radicals will probably say that Wefaq has lost its credibility … The grassroots have become more and more disillusioned, more desperate, and more willing to tacitly or silently support alternative action.”
Bahrain is under pressure to implement the recommendations of a report by a team of international lawyers and human-rights experts that accused the government of widespread torture and violence against protesters during the unrest last spring.
“In the absence of a political solution, things can only get worse,” said Jasim Husain, a member of Wefaq,. “Extremists are exploiting the lack of political reform.”
Today’s violence is in stark contrast to the peaceful mobilizations that have marked the country’s pro-democracy movement to date, as The Washington Post reports:
Three hundred people marched peacefully through streets filled with charred debris one recent night, waving Bahraini flags and shouting slogans against King Hamad and the United States. Without warning, helmeted riot police in SUVs came screeching up and began firing tear gas at the demonstrators, who panicked and ran.
Screaming women stumbled over their long black abaya robes, old men and children in sandals sprinted as hissing tear gas canisters whizzed past. A group of about 20 teenage boys began throwing molotov cocktails at the police officers.
Eyes watering and coughing up gas, human rights activist Said Yousif al-Muhafdah ran to his car and tapped out two messages reporting news of the clash, in Arabic and English, to his more than 70,000 followers on Twitter.
“We only want democracy,” Muhafdah said recently. “In the United States, you have a new elected president every four years. But here we are living with a king and the same prime minister for 42 years.”
But pro-democracy and human rights groups criticized the U.S. failure to oppose the candidacy of Bahrain’s nominee, a career official in its Foreign Ministry, to the UN Human Rights Council.
“In a letter to [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton, 14 nongovernmental organizations, including the Project on Middle East Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, urged the United States to oppose the candidacy in light of Bahrain’s egregious record on human rights,” writes Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy.
“The United States joined the Human Rights Council in 2009 promising to fight against “the pernicious machinations of countries seeking to obscure and deny their abuses” through the council,” he writes:
The U.S. administration could limit military assistance and training to Bahrain; sanction Bahraini officials responsible for gross human rights violations; more strictly enforce the rights requirements of the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement; or call for a special session on Bahrain at the U.N. Human Rights Council. Any of these steps would signal that Washington is finally willing to walk and chew gum, backing up its rhetoric with action.