Children affected by last night's tear gas in Bahrain
"I didn't even go to a protest, but here I am inhaling toxic fumes," an eyewitness from Sitra in Bahrain said.
Last night there were scenes of repression against the Bahraini people again, but many of them were not on the streets. People were inside their homes, shoving wet towels under the doors and the nooks and cranniees of windows and ventilators to stop tear gas from entering. Those who did protest were soon beaten back into their houses. Security forces followed them and started tear-gassing entire neighbourhoods. One eyewitness, whose name and location are withheld for his/her safety, wrote:
"Inside my house! My family and I can barely breathe! We locked ourselves in my room… My parents are coughing and suffocating. My dad told me if I die tonight, it is because they killed us with these gases.
This was the scene in much of Bahrain. Of the seven people EA contacted across the island, every one was either in a house that had been attacked, or had been at a residence or neighbourhood where security forces had used tear gas.
In Sitra, an island south of the capital Manama, protests started in the afternoon in villages. Youths burnt tyres and blocked some roads as a sign of their anger. One eyewitness told EA that usually protesters go out and get tear-gassed, beaten, and hit with stun guns and rubber bullets. Then they run back to their homes. After security forces clear out, they go back out again. This continues until late into the night and both sides go home to fight another day.
Today was different and not only in Sitra. While security forces have targeted residential areas with tear gas before, the scale of last night's attack was daunting. Images of tear gas wafting through neighbuorhoods, trees burning from canisters hitting them, and skies clouded by the smoke wrote a new chapter in the manual of How to Intimidate Protesters. The effects were exacerbated worse by the humid weather, ensuring that the gas remained in the air hours after the police stopped firing.
Eyewitness reports and an EA correspondent indicated more than 60 villages faced such attacks. There were even reports that up-market hotels in Manamah were tear gassed. Some said this was the collective punishment of a regime was running out of ideas to stop opposition: "The government is saying, 'Stop protesting or we will kill your children inside your houses, in front of your eyes.'".
One eyewitness who did not participate in protests but saw the clashes was dumbfounded:
I could see people running away from the police [after a protest in his village southwest of Manamah]. Then, they ran after them and started shooting tear gas at houses they saw protesters going into. Then, they started to shoot at my house,.I didn't even go to protest. Instead, here I am, rubbing milk on my children's faces to keep them from getting affected by tear gas."
Another eyewitness west of the capital swore the gas was different from what he had experienced before. "Some of the gasses are yellow, others are black," he emphasised, "Those are the worst ones. That's what we got hit with....There are no children in my house, but I can hear the neighbours' children crying. I hope they are okay."
Several images of children with red eyes, or hiding in closets to avoid the effects of the tear gas circulated on social media. A resident of Aldaih village said:
I don't know what to tell my two daughters, one six and one eight. They keep hiding in my chest and saying, "Father, father, my eyes burn, I can't breathe. All I can do is rub milk in their faces and keep shoving wet towels under doors and between windows,"
The source later told EA that they had made it through the night. They may have been lucky. Vomiting blood and having severe abdominal pains were reported by several eyewitnesses on social media and by two Bahrainis who spoke to EA on condition of anonymity.
Maryam Alkhawaja of the Bahrain Center of Human Rights, confirmed the information after speaking to people on the ground. "Before March, medics at hospitals treating tear gas victims were saying that some people getting shakes and temporary memory loss because of the tear gas," she told EA by phone from Boston. "Now tonight people are saying that symptoms people are seeing is similar; with abdominal pains and vomiting blood." She also confirmed that police were using different kinds of tear gas, including canisters without labels on them.
One protester claimed the attacks only stopped because the police themselves started to feel the effects and had to run and hide. AN eyewitness who spoke to EA from a village north of Manama saw some of the empty canisters. "I have seen some before, but these I couldn't identify because it didn't say the name or manufacturer; not even what it was, but the smell was still terrible." Others were too busy running away to try and identify the canisters.
In the village of Almughsa, protesters were chased out by the police into the near-by village of Karranah, still firing tear gas at demonstrators and random houses. One protester who had been chased accused the police of trying to run them over, "But thank God, there was a car which made it impossible for the police vehicle to keep chasing us so they got out and ran after us on foot. That gave us a chance to escape."
"The world only cares when they see dead bodies on the street," a Bahraini in Al Musallah told EA. Trying to battle tear gas as he texted from the scene, he continuously apologised for the broken message because he was unable to see clearly: "I read the reports about a lot of people who are being killed in Syria with bullets."
He added, "Here in Bahrain, hiding inside our homes, we are slowly dying."