BEIRUT

Middle East

Growing rift over Bahraini teenager’s death

DUBAI/ MANAMA: A senior Shiite religious leader has blamed security forces for the death of a young Shiite protester in Bahrain, after Bahrain’s Interior Ministry Friday denied reports police shot dead the teenager, offering a $26,500 reward for information about his killers.

Sheikh Isa Qassim said Friday “the killing of a 14-year-old boy by security forces” during an anti-government protest Wednesday shows that the island nation’s Sunni rulers are not listening to people’s demands for greater rights.

Rights groups claim the boy, Ali Jawad Ahmad, died after being hit by a tear gas canister fired at close range by police.

The government says he did not die as a result of being hit with a tear gas canister, and that it was still investigating how he died.

“The ministry expresses regret over statements issued by certain political and human rights organizations” claiming that Ali Jawad Ahmad al-Sheikh’s death “resulted from a police tear gas projectile shot at his face.”

“Ali died as a result of a serious blow to the back of the neck [blunt trauma] that culminated in a blood clot around his brain, which took his life,” said the ministry statement.

“Although this is the subject of confirmation … the contusion on Ali’s neck is not consistent with being hit with a tear gas canister or rubber bullet,” it said, adding it has declared a reward of $26,500 for information about his killers.

The 14-year-old was killed in the Shiite village of Sitra during a small protest after Eid al-Fitr prayers, the Gulf kingdom’s main Shiite opposition group said on its Facebook page.

It posted a picture of the dead teenager with his face covered in blood, saying the tear gas canister was fired from close range.

But the Interior Ministry said that “at the time of Ali’s death [the morning of Wednesday] there were no reported incidents involving the police in the Sitra area.”

“The Interior Ministry is lying,” Bahrain Centre for Human Rights chief Nabeel Rajab told AFP. “They killed him regardless of the weapon used.”

Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets across Bahrain late Thursday, Rajab said.

The activist said protesters tried to march toward Manama’s central Pearl Square where they camped out since mid-February until security forces, boosted by a Saudi-led Gulf regiment, drove them out one month later in a deadly crackdown.

“But police blocked the roads and the protesters were met by tear gas and rubber bullets,” said Rajab.

“There were several injuries but we can’t obtain a toll since people treat their injured in homes and don’t take them to hospitals” from fear of arrests, he said.

Sporadic protests have taken places in Shiite villages since security forces cracked down in mid-March on a month-long pro-democracy protest led by the Shiite majority of the kingdom ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

Authorities say 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the month of unrest. Four others also died in custody.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 03, 2011, on page 9.

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