Right. Here is the full report on the Al-Khawaja trial protest that I promised you. From the start. When I arrived at the public prosecution court Al-Khawaja had already been taken into the courtroom (I was bit late because I was having trouble finding a parking space). There were I would say about 100 protesters in total which consisted of mostly male youths. There were only a handful of women. The crowd wanted to enter the building in which the courtroom was located but were denied entrance by the police. A row of policemen stood shoulder to shoulder blocking the entrance to the building. The leaders (who were mostly community elders) politely pleaded with the cops to let them in but they were politely denied entry. The crowd was growing restless as they chanted slogans in support of Al-Khawaja and against the Prime Minister. "Death to Khalifa (the Prime Minister)" was repeatedly chanted by the youths even though the elders did their best to stop them from saying this. Numerous times I saw the elders approach the youths to scold them quite harshly about saying stuff out of line. I think it is safe to say that the elders did their best to keep the rowdy youths under control, but to no avail. Three or four times a few youths disobeyed the elders and encouraged the crowd to push their way into the building only to be stopped by both the police and the elders.
The youths then began picking on the policemen for being "mojanniseen" (naturalized Bahrainis) and not "real" Bahrainis. (The Bahraini police force is almost entirely made up of mercenaries from Pakistan and Jordan). They also chanted against the judge of the trial who is of Egyptian origin and not a native Bahraini. One of the kids humorously suggested that they should chant in Hindi rather than Arabic so that the policemen would be able to understand what is being said about them. All the while, the cops held their ground not giving away any reactions. Actually they seemed rather aloof to what was going on, often looking quite stupid.
It was obvious from the start that a few of the youths did not come for a peaceful protest but were looking to pick a fight. They were the real troublemakers for they egged on the rest of the crowd. I saw one guy repeatedly whisper to his neighbour telling him to shout "Death to Al-Khalifa", and he did. These hooligans made one more attempt to break the line of cops to get inside the building. One guy managed to slip through and (according to AP) ran into the courtroom shouting "Long live Abdul-Hadi!" and was soon arrested (I believe he was released later in the day).
Photo credit: I don't know, but I got it from here
Outside however a scuffle broke out between the police and the demonstrators in which a few (attempted) blows were exchanged. Out of nowhere sticks and stones were thrown at cops (the kids were obviously waiting for a ruck to stark). The head cop then pulled out an aerosol can of tear gas, sprayed it on the crowd and then ran inside the building with the rest of the cops and locked the dooor.
Photo credit: montadayat.org
The crowd immediately dispersed outside of the compound, but a couple of kids bore the gas for a few extra seconds to continue throwing rocks and sticks at the entrance door tot he building. Where did the sticks come from? There was a short wooden fence demarcating the small garden just outside the bulding entrance. The kids kicked part of the fence apart and used the broken pieces as their ammo. I saw one youth who on his way out of the compound picked up a chair and smashed it against the window of the security post inside the gate. Another kid was looking for ammo so he picked up a cinder block laying outside the compound and smashed it on the ground breaking it into smaller pieces that could be thrown.
Photo credit: montadayat.org
Now what the the extremely intelligent cops did not realize was that while they were spraying the tear gas the entrance to the building was left open and the direction of the wind was blowing towards it. So by the time they were done spraying and had run inside, a significant amount of gas had entered the building and the courtroom itself. I was told that the trial proceedings had to be halted because people were choking, and one of the policemen had to be hospitalized from inhaling the gas.
The protesters had however mostly escaped the effects of the gas by running out of the compound, and within a few minutes the air was clear enough for them to regroup and charge the building entrance again. The hooligans among them were still looking for a fight and were now even angrier than before. Again they armed themselves with sticks and stones but thankfully there were enough sober protesters around to stop them from doing any damage. At this time the cops in full riot gear with shields and helmets came onto the scene to control the situation. The elders managed to calm down the crowd and convinced the riot police to step back to keep from provoking any more anger. The crowd chanted for a while, then Salman Ali (Al Wefaq leader) came out of the courtroom and spoke to the crowd, and then finally they all left the compound.
Now, while I very much support the protests demanding the release of Al-Khawaja, I condemn those hooligans among the supporters for unnecessarily creating trouble. At the previous two (1, 2) demonstrations that I have attended, the crowd was very well behaved obeying all of the order given by the leaders. Those peaceful protests were far more successful (in my opinion at least) in their ability to project themselves as citizens seeking to rectify human rights violations. The demonstration today did exactly the opposite, and it shows why authorities were perfectly justified in refusing entry to the crowd. The rowdy youths among the crowd had no intention from the start of being part of a peaceful protest, but were looking for ways to provoke the cops. They had no respect for anyone; not the authorities, or even their own leaders who did their best to keep them under control. Even when the leaders were giving speeches about the affair, the hooligans would rudely interrupt with chants of "Death to Khalifa". These kids have way too much anger inside them and I seriously recommend that they take up a physical hobby to vent their emotions, rather than wreck perfectly legitimate and important demonstrations, as was done today. I can not stress enough the importance of remaining peaceful and the power of nonviolent resistance.
Having said this, I think the use of tear gas could have been avoided by the security forces, as it was only small scuffle to start out with. The cops need to realize that the use of any force on their part will give the hooligans more reason to reply with further violence. It also adds to the opposition's ability to portray themselves as being victims. A fine example is the video of the moments right after the tear gas was sprayed. Click here to watch the video and notice how it has been edited with "Star Wars"-esque defiant music being played in the background. (Also, see if you can spot me running around in the video!).
Anyhow, the news from inside the courtroom is that Al-Khawaja was refused bail by the judge, and the trial has been adjourned until Monday. The next demonstration is set for tomorrow night (Thursday) at 8pm when they will march from Ras Rumman mosque to the Prime Minister's office. Word on the street is that there will be a very big turnout, and I hope hope hope that there will be enough elders around to keep the youths under control otherwise we could have some real trouble on our hands.
To have a look at the rest of my photos from the event, click here. (Yes I went crazy again taking 97 shots this time, but very few that turned out good). Or see some better photos taken by someone else here. Also, have a look at this photo and see who the credit has been given to :)))
Finally, here is a picture of the damaged garden that was left behind. Poor plants.