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Human Rights Watch urges authorities to investigate deaths linked to crackdown

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Manama, March 29, 2011 - The Bahraini government should urgently investigate the killing of at least 18 people during violent crackdowns since protests began on February 14, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Most were killed by security forces using excessive force, namely crowd-control equipment at extremely close range and live gunfire, Human Rights Watch said. Four government security officers were also killed, according to the Interior Ministry.

The authorities admitted holding four missing persons in the Bahrain Defense Force hospital only after they had succumbed to their injuries. This raises serious concerns regarding the missing persons' treatment and whether authorities are holding other people without notifying their families, Human Rights Watch said.

"Bahraini security forces have frequently shown a reckless disregard for human life during crackdowns on protesters," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Firing birdshot pellets at close range is not crowd control - it can be murder."

At least 13 people died when riot police and troops attacked several Shia villages starting March 15, Human Rights Watch said. They include Ahmed Farhan, age 24, and Mohammed Eklas, a 50 year-old Bangladeshi citizen, who died in Sitra on March 15. According to media reports, Eklas was run over by a vehicle while trying to help some women during the crackdown, but Human Rights Watch could not independently verify this account.

A third Sitra resident, Isa al-Radhi, 46, who had been missing since that day, was declared dead on March 19, when authorities called his family and told them to collect his body. Photographs of the body show the back of his head blown open and an empty brain cavity, suggesting that he had been shot at close range.

Security forces killed at least three protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, during demonstrations on the morning of March 16. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces initially used teargas, rubber bullets, and birdshot guns but later shot live ammunition rounds in an effort to regain full control of the areas close to the roundabout.

Jaafar Abd al-Ali Salman, 41, Jaafar Mayoof, 30, and Ahmad al-Arnoot, 22, all died from wounds received on March 16. Media reports indicate that Salman and Mayoof were hit by live ammunition, while al-Arnoot's injuries were from a birdshot gun. Stephan Abraham, an Indian national who worked as a security guard in a nearby building, died later that day after he was apparently struck by a stray bullet at his place of work around 8 p.m.

The security forces fired live ammunition during security sweeps on March 15, 16, and in subsequent days, Human Rights Watch said.

The latest victim of the government crackdown was 71-year-old Isa Mohammed Ali Abdulla, who died of asphyxiation from teargas used against demonstrators in the village of Maameer on March 25, Al-Wasat, an independent daily, reported. Abdulla was at home when teargas used by government security forces entered his house, causing his death, the report said. Instead of properly investigating the death and the security forces' use of teargas, the Interior Ministry issued a statement that evening declaring that Abdulla had died of "natural causes."

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