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Bahrain Special: Growing Concerns Amid Questions Over Bombs and A Tide of Repression

One of the claimed sites of Monday's explosions in Manama (Photo: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

See also Bahrain Timeline: The Regime's Path of Repression from 23 September to Today

There have been growing concerns for Bahrain over recent weeks. As EFF put it on Saturday, "Bahrain Goes From Bad to Worse".

This concern continued yesterday. Two migrant workers were killed and a third injured in the capital Manama, following what the Ministry of Interior claimed were five separate bomb explosions over a five-hour period.

Amidst calls for an independent investigation, with many questions being raised over precisely what happened, the Bahrain Government seems poised to blame the "official" opposition. Indeed, last night the Interior Minister suggested that the deaths mark an end to any possible dialogue:

What happened was a terror act and major part of our work focuses on chasing those terrorists. Negotiation couldn't be carried out with terrorists and talks couldn't take place within this violence.

With this warning, and as details of the deaths emerge, it is useful to locate yesterday's violence in its recent context, particuarly the escalating crackdown on the opposition and the increase in human rights violations. In the past seven days, the Government has banned all protests, sentenced a man to six months in prison for "defaming" King Hamad on Twitter, and arrested Said Yousif Almuhafda, acting Vice President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), on the charge of attendance at an illegal gathering.

During his interrogation, Almuhafda was reportedly questioned about his speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in September. Government assurances that there would be no reprisals against the human rights activists and opposition figures who went to Switzerland, the regime has done precisely that, as this timeline establishes.

The recent death of a policeman has also raised fears over violence from the opposition, whilst simultaneously providing fodder for the pro-regime narrative that seeks to paint demonstrators as little more than thugs who are not "loyal" to the Kingdom. Last week, the Prime Minister, visiting the Minister of Interior, described the pro-democracy movement as "saboteurs who exploited democracy as a dagger in the midline of the nation", in contrast to "the loyal Bahraini people who have proven their solid stance and cohesion with their leadership".

The Ministry of Interior's comments about yesterday's violence putting an end to dialogue are unsurprising. Hardliners in the regime and its loyalist supporters have long sought to prevent any talks between "reformist" Government officials and opposition societies like AlWefaq. When the Guardian reported last week that talks had been occurring in secret, the Bahraini Minister of State for Information, Sameera Rajab, declared that the story was "totally untrue", even though the Secretary General of the pro-Government society National Unity Assembly had earlier confirmed the discussions.

On Monday, Rajab claimed the deaths of the two migrant workers were "due to religious fatwas issued by some religious figures who haven't ceased inciting violence against civilians and policemen". This is almost certainly a --- false --- reference to Sheikh Isa Qassim, spiritual leader of AlWefaq, whom hardliners seek to silence.

In a statement, AlWefaq condemned the incidents, adding that it is its "fixed stance to refuse violence". They also demanded "independent parties" to investigate this and previous incidents, as well as "to allow credible media and human right organizations to take part in presenting the truth to the public".

Maryam AlKhawaja, acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, also condemned the violence and called for an "independent investigation" into the deaths. She added that the attacks were "not grounds to start a campaign of collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, and torture, as we've see happen before".

The fear, however, is precisely that the regime will exploit the violence and tragic deaths to publicly --- and internationally --- justify its current path of repression, rather than reform, evading any accountability and obligations. Equally, regime factions will likely use the conflict to stoke up the loyalist base to ensure that any attempts at dialogue or reconciliation are undermined.

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