Bahrain – Latest News from Physicians for Human Rights

Report Documents Bahrain’s Use of Tear Gas as a Potentially Lethal Weapon

The Bahrain government’s indiscriminate use of tear gas as a weapon has resulted in the maiming, blinding, and even killing of civilian protesters and must stop at once while the government reassesses its use, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) declares in a report issued today.

“So-called tear gas, often considered a crowd-control method with no lasting harmful effects, can cause permanent injuries, miscarriages, birth defects, and even fatalities as used by Bahrain’s security forces,” says PHR Deputy Director Richard Sollom, the report’s lead author. “Those tactics include firing tear gas canisters directly at civilians or into their cars, houses, or other closed spaces where toxic effects are greatly exacerbated.”

Sollom is in Washington, DC, to urge Congress to continue to ban the export of tear gas to Bahrain and to withhold military assistance to that country until it improves its record on human rights.

In testimony prepared for delivery today to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Sollom notes that in the course of three visits to Bahrain in the past 18 months to investigate human rights violations he had hoped to see such violations diminish, even as the regime grappled with continuing protests. “Instead,” he reports, “I find a government fixated on rhetoric rather than results.”

Sollom and co-author Holly Atkinson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and former president of PHR, interviewed more than 100 Bahraini citizens during their April investigation, including victims of civil rights violations, corroborating witnesses, civil society leaders, and government officials. Their 60-page report—Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians—documents their findings, based on physical examinations and medical records. Among them:

  • A teenage boy was struck in his left eye by a tear gas canister fired at close range, which fractured his eye socket and ruptured his eyeball, leaving him blind in that eye.
  • A 27-year-old bystander suffered a fractured skull and intracranial bleeding when struck in the head with a tear gas canister.
  • A physiotherapist started wheezing, felt short of breath, and had difficulty speaking for two weeks after exposure to tear gas.
  • Several women who had miscarried reported that their doctors said they had noticed a significant rise in miscarriages in neighborhoods where tear gas was used frequently.
  • An asthmatic man routinely exposed to tear gas died in the hospital of acute respiratory failure after exposure to yet another tear gas explosion.