Bahrain indifferent to international criticism
In just one example, Bahrain's government failed to respond to a scathing report accusing authorities of detaining wounded protesters rather than allowing them to get treatment.
In the back alleys and streets of this Shiite Muslim town, a police crackdown looms at any hour of the day, but never more so than at nightfall, when even innocuous civil disobedience can lead to jail and perhaps torture.Skip to next paragraph
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The angry young men here know from experience that the police will use helicopters, blunderbuss rifles, and tear gas to confront them, but they plot their next nighttime protest march nevertheless, in what's become a cat-and-mouse game under Bahrain's state of emergency, imposed to crush what remains of the country's protest movement.
The police, mainly Sunni Muslims recruited from Pakistan's Baluchistan province as well as Yemen, Syria, and other Muslim countries, deploy three or four vans at the entrances to this town's residential neighborhoods. Inside are 12 to 20 men ready to pounce the first moment they hear of a demonstration – even a candlelight vigil – against the government.
They chase the protesters down the streets and alleys, firing birdshot from blunderbusses, while other protests spring up not far away. A visitor driving through Sitra one recent evening saw police chasing and firing in one quarter, and young men marching and chanting in another nearby.
The chants aren't ambiguous. "Down with the king," a group of about 30 young men chanted as they marched about with small tea candles, referring to King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, the head of the Khalifa dynasty.
This is what passes for normal now in Bahrain, a Sunni-ruled island nation that's home to the headquarters of the US Navy's 5th Fleet and where most people follow the Shiite branch of Islam.
Crackdown on protests
For the past two months, the country's rulers have imposed a harsh crackdown on a protest movement that was among the first to spring up after Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was pushed from that country's presidency in February.
The crackdown has included bulldozing Shiite mosques, arresting mainstream opposition politicians and closing the country's main opposition newspaper.
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The protest marches that dominated life for weeks here are gone, as is the iconic Pearl Square monument, which had been the gathering point.
Still, every night in many Bahraini villages and towns, residents gather on their rooftops at 8:15 and again at 10 to issue what's become a protest cry: "Allahu akbar," or "God is great." Police deploy helicopters to try to drown out this protest, and to drop tear gas canisters on the rooftops, residents say.
Detention instead of treatment for wounded protesters
The Sunni government has seized control of the health care system, and that's the police's secret weapon for tracking down protesters, which some experts say violates international conventions that require the humane treatment of all civilians and nondiscriminatory treatment of the injured and sick.
"Today when we see a person injured with birdshot, we have nowhere to take them," said an observer from an international human rights group whose name is being withheld to avoid retaliation. "Birdshot is being used as a distinctive marker to identify protesters. They will not receive treatment. They will be arrested."
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that more than 1,000 people have been detained in the crackdown.
Taxi drivers targeted for aiding protest movement
The environment is suffused with fear. With new political trials starting weekly and masked militiamen arresting civilians without judicial process, many Bahrainis live in a state of fright. When a McClatchy correspondent attempted to visit a prominent human rights activist, a taxi driver refused and dumped his fare on the main road. "Do you want them to kill me?" he said of the police. "They could destroy my taxi."