On Thursday, the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture held the second in their series of protests against government employed torturers. (Read about the first protest here). Their specific demands were:
- The annulment of Royal Decree 56 which in effect grants amnesty to all of the accused torturers.
- Compensation for the victims of torture and the families of the murdered.
- That those accused of torture be put on trial, and their files be made public.
Their specific hitlist included the following people:
- Adel Flaifel
- Shaikh Abdulaziz Atiyatallah Al-Khalifa (currently head of the national security agency)
- Khalid Al-Wazzan
- Khalid Al-Moawada
- Adnan Al-Dhaen
- Mahmood Al-Akoori
- Abdulrahman bin Saqr
And although his name wasn't written on any of the placards, "Down down Henderson!" was chanted several times throughout the protest, obviously referring to the notorious Ian Henderson.
The turnout wasn't huge -- 250 people max I would say -- but it was significant. But the really interesting thing was that the protest was held right outside the Ministry of Interior Fort in Manama, home of the CID and all the accused torturers listed above. As far as I know, this was the first time that a protest has been held there. At first the protesters gathered on the opposite side of the roundabout outside the fort. But after about half an hour a group of protesters walked across the road and continued their demonstration on the pavement just outside the fort entrance.
Kudos to the cops for letting the protesters demonstrate so close to the entrance, and for limiting their own presence. The fact that people are allowed to publicly protest about the lack of democracy is, ironically, a sign that we actually do have some vestiges of democracy in Bahrain. Of course, we can't ignore the fact that Bahrain's torturers have been given complete amnesty. However, I think that allowing people to air their grievances freely is one step in the right direction towards the justice that the regime will inevitably have to face in the future. Many many more of such steps still need to be taken.
But one sneaky thing that the cops did was to block off the roads leading to the demonstration after about 45 minutes, thus limiting its exposure. I think the cops could have used the excuse that the protest was slowing down traffic at the roundabout to justify their action. (Yes, the protest did slow down traffic). So I think the activists need to reassess their methods of activism.
Holding demonstrations is a very useful tool, but that on its own does not achieve a great deal. The only people that see the protests are the people who actually drive by, and most of them don't have enough time to understand what's really going on. They probably just read a few signs and drive on (since the drivers behind them are honking to get them to speed up). And when the cops block the roads, as they did on Thursday, then the exposure is further limited. Asides from this, the only other coverage that such a protest will get is a paragraph in the local papers if they're lucky (and if they're really lucky, then maybe a short report from the international agencies). I'm sure that most people in the country weren't even aware that there was a protest on Thursday... or if they did know about it, then they probably forgot about the issue the next day.
So I think there is a need to complement the demonstrations with other methods of protest that can be sustained for longer than a couple of hours. Maybe something like a ribbon campaign, or small stickers for cars. Maybe they could try to purchase some newspaper space for an ad (okay, that's a tough one). Or anything that will attract attention and spark curiosity, that doesn't require too much effort, and does not hinder the desired audience from going about their business. A bit of imagination could go a long way.
Anyways, watch a video of Thursday's protest by clicking here (wmv 6.34MB)... you'll have to mentally filter out the Braveheart background music. And the next protest in this series is set for the 28th of Jan at 3.30pm, again outside the Ministry of Interior Fort.
And some photos of activist kids as usual: