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Death on the Danube 
... and a tale of corruption in Libya

Found dead: Libya's former oil chief Shokri Ghanem had expressed fears for his safety

  
Shokri Ghanem, the man in charge of Libya's highly corrupt oil industry during the last five years of Gaddafi's rule, was found dead yesterday – floating in the river Danube near his home in Vienna. His family have suggested that he fell in the river after suffering a heart attack, though foul play has not yet been ruled out.

Either way, his death will make it more difficult to uncover the whole truth about a series of oil-related scandals in Libya – including the unfolding Ras Lanuf refinery affair which I wrote about here just a few hours before Ghanem died.

Though Libya under Gaddafi was officially a "people's" state, its oil industry provided a wealth of opportunities for individuals and companies to cream off money that rightfully belonged to the people. For five years Ghanem was in charge of that industry, and whether or not he personally benefited from the corruption, he probably had more knowledge than anyone else of what was going on – so much so that on one occasion he expressed fears for the safety of himself and his family.

That knowledge may be one reason why Ghanem did not return to Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, even though he had defected from the regime last May during the uprising.

Ghanem's entry into Libyan politics was largely due to Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam. In the late 1990s, Ghanem was in Vienna, working for Opec when Saif arrived in the city (together with his pet tiger) to study for an MBA degree at the academically-suspect IMADEC business school. They struck up a friendship and in 2001 Saif persuaded his father to appoint Ghanem as Libya's economy minister.

Two years later, again at Saif's behest, Ghanem became secretary of the General People's Committee – in effect, prime minister – and with support from Saif embarked on a reform programme that included lifting state subsidies and partly privatising the socialist-style economic system.

This made him unpopular with the more traditional elements in the regime and in 2006 he was ousted from the prime ministerial role. Instead, the Colonel made him oil minister and he also took over as chairman of the state-owned oil company, NOC.

In 2009 he resigned his NOC chairmanship over what the Libya Herald describes as "differences with the rest of the government over oil policy" (though it seems he was eventually persuaded to return to the post).

According to a WikiLeaks document from 2008, one of the reasons for Ghanem's unhappiness was "attempts by al-Qadhafi's sons to use the NOC as a personal bank".

Ibrahim el-Meyet, a Tripoli-based lawyer and close friend of Ghanem, told John Godfrey, the US Chargé d'Affaires, that one of the Colonels sons – Muatassim (now dead) – had been demanding $1.2 billion from the NOC, either in cash or in oil shipments:

Ibrahim el-Meyet (strictly protect), a prominent Tripoli-based attorney and business consultant, told CDA on July 10 that Dr Shukri Ghanem, Chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) intends to tender his resignation to Muammar al-Qadhafi soon, perhaps as early as the coming week ...

El-Meyet said Ghanem felt compelled to resign because National Security Adviser Muatassim al-Qadhafi, a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, had approached him in late June with a request for $1.2 billion. Muatassim suggested that if Ghanem could not quickly generate such a large sum in cash, he would be willing to accept oil allotments that he could sell privately as an alternative way to generated the funds. 

(Note: El-Meyet said other sons of al-Qadhafi (NFI) had recently levied demands for oil allotments that they could sell privately as well. End note.) 

Muatassim refused to say what the money would be used for, but el-Meyet said Ghanem had learned from another well-connected source that Muatassim intended to use some of the funds to establish a military/security unit akin to that of his younger brother, Khamis, and to defray the expense of unspecified "security upgrades" he wanted to make in his capacity as National Security Adviser. 

Ghanem informed Muammar al-Qadhafi in early July about Muatassim's request. Al-Qadhafi laughingly dismissed it and flatly told Ghanem to ignore it; however, according to el-Meyet, Ghanem is "genuinely concerned" that Muatassim or his confederates could seek revenge against Ghanem or his family if Muatassim does not receive the funds and/or learns that his father was informed of the request. 

The courtly el-Meyet was unusually blunt in assessing al-Qadhafi's children as "undisciplined thugs", noting that "no one can cross or refuse such people (the al-Qadhafi family) without suffering consequences, particularly when the matter is to do with money". 

In a long conversation with el-Meyet on July 5, Ghanem said that given the potential danger to him and his family stemming from Muatassim's request, he sees little choice but to resign. He had already drafted a letter of resignation and was waiting for al-Qadhafi to get through visits by Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos (who was in town July 10) and the Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris (on July 13) before submitting it. 

Around the same time, discussions were taking place about the future of Libya's laregst oil refinery at Ras Lanuf. In 2009 a deal was finalised which put the refinery in the hands of the newly-formed Libyan Emirati Refining Company (Lerco) – a partnership between the state-owned NOC and the Dubai-based Al Ghurair group.

As I mentioned in my blog post on Saturday, the deal was highly controversial at the time – it appears to have been financially disadvantageous to the Libyan state – though in an interview with Reuters last December Ghanem appeared to defend it.

The main complaints regarding the deal were:

1. That the refinery's assets were undervalued at the time of the deal with Al Ghurair;

2. That crude oil for refining was supplied too cheaply;

3. That Lerco was allowed to delay payments on its supplies of crude – in effect, getting a huge interest-free loan.

An internal Libyan government document, "The Annual Report by the Control Board for 2010" – copies of which were obtained by Reuters after the fall of Gaddafi – said that the NOC's accounts had failed to comply with "the state's fiscal law, the budget's bylaw and the accounts and warehouses bylaws".

One practice highlighted in the report was the use of post-dated contracts. This meant that purchasers of Libyan oil could benefit from price fluctuations and delay payment (thus, in effect, getting an interest-free loan). According to the report, such contracts "did not include terms and conditions aimed at guaranteeing the best price for NOC" and also "led to loss of interest for the public treasury and gain of the same for the clients".

Interviewed by Reuters last December, Ghanem said he had no knowledge of such contracts but argued that if they had indeed happened, the practice would not have been corrupt.

The documents also said that "millions of dollars in payments for oil had been erratic and difficult to trace," according to Reuters. "This was partly because multiple bank accounts had been opened in the NOC's name. On top of that, deals had been cut by individuals without authorisation." Reuters' summary continues:

"The Director of the Crude Oil Department used to sell instant shipments on his own and without referring to ... even his own superior officer," the report says. The crude oil manager at the time, Khaled Nashnoush, is also the signatory of at least one of the allegedly backdated contracts. He could not be reached for comment, and no one at the NOC could say where he is now.

Ghanem said it would be unreasonable to expect him to monitor the activities of all individuals. "Otherwise what is the point of having a head of department?"

There were plenty of other strange things going on, according to the documents. In 2008, for example, five million barrels of Libyan oil – worth around $500,000 – reportedly disappeared. In his interview with Reuters last year, Ghanem said he did not know about it and suggested the story had been made up by his enemies.
   

Muatassim Gaddafi: tried to use the national oil company as his personal bank

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 30 April 2012. Comment.


Saudi Arabia: a bauble for the king

There's great excitement in Saudi Arabia. The whole kingdom is rejoicing. Everyone is thrilled, delighted, jubilant, esctatic and absolutely over the moon – at least, if you believe the Saudi Gazette:

There was universal acclaim for King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, after Unesco awarded him with its gold medal, the organisation’s highest honour. A number of Saudi officials and businessmen hailed the award as the world’s recognition of the King’s efforts to encourage interfaith dialogue and peaceful coexistence.

Yes, indeed. Look how he encourages peaceful coexistence between Sunni and Shia Muslims by sending troops into Bahrain, or attacking protesters in his own Eastern Province.

Then there's the benign-sounding "interfaith dialogue" which, as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, usually means joining forces with those from other religions who share a Wahhabist mentality in order to promote their reactionary social agendas together.

And while we're about it, don't any of those usually-vociferous Saudi clerics have something to say on the question of gold medals? Are none of them willing to stand up and point out that such baubles are a sign of immodesty in men – and therefore haraaaaaaam? Apparently not.

Abdul Rahman Al-Attayshan, Chairman of the Saudi-Qatari Business Council, said Unesco’s actions reflect the love and affection of the international community for the King. He said King Abdullah was following in the footsteps of his father to ensure that the country remains the leading decision-maker in the region, local media said.

Yousuf Al-Dowsary, head of the National Commercial Committee at the Saudi Council of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said: “King Abdullah has earned the respect of the world for the great role he has played in tackling Arab, Islamic and international issues.” 

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Jairani, a judge at the Inheritance Circuit in Qatif, said the award is not surprising due to King Abdullah’s economic and political role in the region and the world. 

At least Sheikh Jairani is partly right: the award is no surprise. In 2006, Unesco also gave a gold medal to President Karimov, the tyrant of Uzbekistan.

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 29 April 2012. Comment.


Libya: a scandal at the oil refinery?

Libya's largest oil refinery, in Ras Lanuf, has been closed since the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi and will remain closed for at least another month while the company that operates it is restructured, 
the Tripoli Post reports.

Behind this rather bland announcement is a controversy that has been rumbling ever since the refinery was put into the hands of the Libyan Emirati Refining Company (Lerco) in 2009. Lerco is jointly owned by the Libyan state's National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Dubai-based Al Ghurair group.

Opening up the refinery to private investment by Al Ghurair was "one of the most controversial business decisions at the time," the Tripoli Post's report says. 

Libyan economic experts and oil officials voiced their opposition to the way the whole venture was handled by Gaddafi officials. 

The Ras Lanuf "fiasco" as some like to call it has been viewed as an example of corrupt practices by the former regime whose oppressive governing did not give room to the economic interest of the country or the views of national expertise on these matters.

There are three main allegations (all of which are denied by some of those involved):

1. That the refinery's assets were undervalued at the time of the deal with Al Ghurair;

2. That crude oil for refining was supplied too cheaply;

3. That Lerco was allowed to delay payments on its supplies of crude – in effect, getting a huge interest-free loan.

Late last year, Reuters obtained copies of "The Annual Report by the Control Board for 2010" which had been produced by the Gaddafi regime's Ministry for Inspection and Popular Control. The purpose of the report was not entirely clear but it detailed various cases of government maladministration. Reuters said:

The document, along with private letters, contracts signed with foreign partners and the results of other investigations carried out by the ministry over the years, catalogues allegations of shoddy dealings, particularly in oil. These include tardy financial reporting, false dates on contracts, multiple bank accounts, undervalued assets and oil or money gone missing.

Part of the report dealt with the Ras Lanuf refinery affair, and here is what Reuters said about it:

1. On the valuation of assets ...

According to Libya's 2010 report, the refinery's assets and operations were assigned in the 2009 deal to a new company, the Libya Emirates Refining Company (Lerco). Lerco is a joint venture between the NOC and Trasta Energy, part of the Al Ghurair empire. The agreement included an upgrade of the 1984 refinery which would be a $2 billion investment.

However, according to the report, the sale was based on an undervaluation of Libya's main oil asset. "The assessment ... was based on its book values, which were very low," concluded the editors.

Asked to comment, Ghanem [former prime minister Shokri Ghanem] said any deal would have attracted contrasting views, and London-based law firm Ashurst had been hired to complete the evaluation. Ashurst declined to comment.

2. On the pricing of crude supplies ...

The report ... says 25-year agreements were put in place to supply Ras Lanuf with 200,000 barrels of oil daily, but no official price was specified. The price that was later set gave the refinery access to "unjustified discounts" on the crude. A separate investigation by the ministry in 2010 said the formula for pricing had been inappropriate, and the NOC lost money as a result.

Ghanem said the price had been set by a committee and at the time it had seemed like a good deal for the NOC. "Whether the committee is competent or not, I inherited them," he said. "If the committee doesn't understand, what can I do?"

Muhssn Abdulhafid Almaswry, who joined the NOC in September as new marketing manager for crude oil, confirmed the deal had gone ahead without a price being agreed for all the oil. But he said he did not think the refinery was supplied too cheaply ...

3. On late payments ...

Payment for the oil was also a problem, according to the report. Investigators found the joint venture had not met its 30-day payment terms, which may enable the refinery's owners to pocket the interest on over $2 billion in unpaid bills.

Essa Al Ghurair, the United Arab Emirates businessman, declined to comment. Speaking on his behalf, an official for Trasta [the subsidiary of Al Ghurair that is involved in Lerco] denied the refinery had missed payment dates. Lerco "always paid the invoices for crude received from NOC within the contractual requirement", the official said in an email.

Assertions that it received its crude oil too cheaply were "way incorrect", the official added. "Lerco has never used any discount on crude."

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Rightly or wrongly, there are suspicions that the Libyan people were ripped off by the Gaddafi regime's Rad Lanuf deal – hence the pressure to renegotiate it. At the same time there is pressure in the opposite direction – not to get too tough with an Emirati company, since the UAE was one of the anti-Gaddafi uprising's more prominent Gulf supporters.

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 April 2012. Comment.


Yemen: the Saleh regime fights back

Events in Yemen over the last few days provide a sharp reminder that despite the resignation of President Saleh and the installation of President Hadi in a one-candidate "election", the Saleh regime remains largely in place. It won't go without a struggle and is still capable of obstructing the internationally-backed transition plan at every turn.

One indication of the difficulties ahead came last month when Saleh's supporters celebrated his 70th birthday as if he were still president. The festivities were accompanied by an electrical power cut in the capital, Sana'a, for which Saleh loyalists are being blamed.

A delegation from Human Rights Watch, returning from a fact-finding visit to Yemen, reported last week:

Sana'a and other cities remain divided into zones controlled by an array of military, paramilitary, and tribal forces, and ... Hadi’s efforts to reorganise them under a central command have stalled. Moreover, with few exceptions, the leadership and membership of these units remain unchanged, despite documentation by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups of serious violations by their forces, including the Central Security Services, the Republican Guard, and the Political Security and National Security agencies during the 2011 uprising and in previous years ...

Saleh’s relatives and other loyalists of the former president head security forces including the Republican Guard and Central Security, and the civilian leadership in the country has stated that it has no control over these forces.

President Hadi, who served as Saleh's deputy and – unlike Saleh – has no real power base of his own, took his first serious steps towards addressing that problem on Friday with a series of decrees replacing several key figures in the military, along with four provincial governors and a number of other officials.

This was bound to provoke some resistance and, in anticipation of trouble, ambassadors of the UN Security Council's permanent members, the Gulf Cooperation Council states and the EU immediately issued a statement declaring their support for Hadi's action.

Meanwhile, Yemen-watcher Gregory Johnsen summed up the situation with a tweet which said:

Hard to tell if Hadi is incredibly wise and brave or unspeakably foolish. I guess the results will determine.

One of those ousted by Hadi's decrees was the air force chief, General Mohamed Saleh al-Ahmar, who is a half-brother of the ex-president. Ahmar refused to go and reportedly made threats against Sana'a airport (which has an air force base nearby). As a result, the airport remained closed throughout Saturday. 

Accounts of what happened at the airport differ. The Yemen Times talks of shells being fired from the air base and al-Sahwa talks of looting at the air base by Ahmar supporters and a threat to shoot down planes. The official version is that "armed groups" fired shots "close to the takeoff and landing areas", prompting closure of the airport for safety reasons.

The airport reopened on Sunday, though it is still unclear whether Ahmar has been persuaded to accept his dismissal.

On Friday there were also reports of sabotage to the capital's electricity supplies – with suspicion again being directed at Saleh loyalists.

Clearing out the old guard is going to be a difficult and lengthy process – and the big question is how far Hadi will be able (or willing) to push it. At this stage, Hadi and his government really ought to be tackling other urgent problems, such as the economy and reconciliation with the Southern Movement and the Houthi rebels, without being constantly undermined by the Saleh diehards.

This, though, is the inevitable result of the "transition" agreement – originally proposed by the GCC states but most actively pursued by the US and Saudi Arabia for reasons that were more connected with their own perceived interests than the demands of the 11-month uprising against Saleh.

The transition process, as set out in the agreement, is now in its second phase (the first phase ended with Hadi's unopposed "election"). During the second phase the following is supposed to happen (Article 19):

(a) Ensuring that the Conference for National Dialogue is convened, and forming a preparatory committee for the Conference, as well as an Interpretation Committee and other bodies established pursuant to this Mechanism;

(b) Establishing a process of constitutional reform that will address the structure of the State and the political system, and submitting the amended Constitution to the Yemeni people in a referendum;

(c) Reforming the electoral system; and

(d) Holding elections for Parliament and the Presidency in accordance with the new Constitution.

All this leaves Saleh with much still to play for – especially since his supporters continue to share power in the national unity government and command a large majority in parliament.

How this plays out will have relevance far beyond Yemen. It also foreshadows what might be expected in Syria if the uprising there results in a negotiated "transition" that removes Assad without also dismantling the Assad regime..

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 April 2012. Comment.


Mauritania: revolt of the "hand-towels"

The unrest in Mauritania continues to get scant attention from the English-language media, so here are some more details, pieced together from other sources.

The video above is a report from al-Jazeera about the mass protest on Tuesday when opposition groups organised nine separate but coordinated demonstrations in the capital, Nouakchott. 

Alakhbar, a Mauritanian news website, also has a report (in French), with pictures. A speaker from the RFD (Regroupement des Forces Démocratiques) party called on President Aziz to "leave while we tell him to peacefully" and there were also complaints about the rising cost of living. Alakhbar has also published the text of a speech (in Arabic) by Saleh Ould Hanenna of the Mauritanian Union for Change (HATEM).

The video below shows an altercation outside the health ministry on Tuesday when members of a health workers' union confronted a minister. The minister reportedly described the protesters as "vulgar" and "hand-towels" (an insult that presumably sounds more offensive in Arabic than in English).


  
On Sunday, unemployed graduates began a sit-in outside the presidential palace. Twenty-eight were later arrested. More were arrested on Tuesday as they attempted to resume the sit-in – and 
returned again on Wednesday after being released by the police.

At Nouakchott university, police reportedly used batons and teargas to disperse a sit-in at the law school. Five leaders of the UNEM students' organisation were arrested.

  



A protester tells the president to go. Photo posted by @lissnup 

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 April 2012. Comment.


Bahrain: shot man "died from a cut"

Following the shooting of citizen journalist Ahmed Ismael Hassan in Bahrain, which I reported here at the weekend, the EAWorldView blog describes how the victim's family have been harassed by the authorities (scroll down to 1812 GMT).

An EA correspondent recently visited Ahmed's family and was told of the harassment they have received by the Ministry of Interior. Our correspondent described the treatment of the family by officers of the CID at the hospital as "sick":

They [CID] refused to allow the family to see him. After he died they came out from the room holding a camera, filming the family while they were mourning him. One of the CIDs even told his uncle that [Ahmed's death was] "the results of vandalism!"

Subsequently, the Ministry of Interior has allegedly been harassing the family to sign a death certificate which only lists the cause of death as a deep cut. The family are refusing to sign the death certificate until it clearly states that Ahmed died from a gunshot wound which ruptured his femoral artery. As a consequence, the Ministry of Interior is refusing to release the body for Ahmed's burial.

Our correspondent was also able to dispel rumours, which had been circulating on social media, that Ahmed's sister was fired from her job after giving an interview to al-Alam television.

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 April 2012. Comment.


Mauritania: next in the Arab Spring?

Photo posted by Ahmed Ennahoui

  
Has the Arab Spring reached Mauritania? Popular unrest is clearly growing and yesterday tens of thousands took to the streets of the capital, Nouakchott, calling on the president to step down.

Up to now, this has largely gone unnoticed by the rest of the world, apart from a few tweets and blog posts. Mauritania, after all, is one of the more obscure members of the Arab League and none of the big powers take much interest in it, politically or strategically.

Last night I asked Mauritanian-born Nasser Weddady – one of those tweeting and blogging about it – what he thought of the unrest, and he replied: "By local standards it's unprecedented, but I'm afraid it's not just yet a news story in the west: no real stakes or interests." The protests are scarcely surprising, though, considering that 51% of Mauritanians aged 18-24 (not to mention 69% of women) are said to be unemployed.

Mauritania is the fiefdom of ex-general Ould Abdel Aziz who seized power through a military coup in 2008 then shed his uniform and regularised his position (after a fashion) in a dodgy presidential election a year later.

Parliamentary elections were due to take place last October but have been postponed three times and are currently rescheduled for May – though it is stil uncertain whether they will actually take place.

Last month a coalition of opposition parties issued a 43-page document (in Arabic) setting out their complaints. Weddady 
commented on his blog:

This document should be read, and viewed, on the basis that represents the views of the biggest factions of the country’s opposition. it provides fresh insights into the thinking of Mauritania’s super politicos on a host of issues, and the hierarchy of problems the country faces from their perspectives.

The authors summed up their views of Mauritania’s dire straits in the on the document’s first page: Political deadlock, institutional crisis, collapse of the Mauritanian State, impoverished citizens, rampant corruption, systematic pillaging of the country’s natural resources, military adventures, and diplomatic incoherence.

The information contained in the document is not new per se, what is new is that the opposition is demanding a national unity government and elections to remedy the unconstitutional parliament that lapsed back in November 2011. Additionally, the last chapter of the document (page 36) has a detailed discussion of the the fact that Mauritania’s institutions today are outside of constitutional legality. A fact that very few outside observers have either picked on, commented, or even acknowledged.

That constitutional void has consequences beyond the internal political power struggle. For example, It would be worth pointing out to foreign investors that their recent agreements with Aziz are null and void– particularly mining companies that signed any deals with the current government after May 2011.

Writing for the Moor Next Door blog in mid-March, "Kal" gave this description of the evolving situation:

Mauritania is facing many structural political problems at several levels and these almost certainly take first place when compared to issues like the terrorism file ... The last two months saw impressive and in some cases unprecedented manifestations of popular protest; this week Nouakchott saw what was perhaps the largest single demonstration in its history, numbering, depending on what source one looks at, 40,000 people (and possibly more) a number which speaks for itself in a country of roughly 4m people, close to a quarter of whom live in or near the capital city. 

The discontent ... has grown over the last several months, owing to the standard inequalities and injustices suffered by Mauritanians and others in north-west Africa, not to mention the relatively dire food security situation, the upsetting of grazing patterns in the eastern part of the country brought on by the conflict in Mali, the not so special style of corruption preferred by the current president and leadership which is more narrow than in the past and less satisfying to key parts of the tribal and business and social fabric ...

The youth movement, which looked as if it were going to peter out a few months ago has increased its online presence and has put up much in the way of images and videos on Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social media board. The trouble likely to come from the election fiasco will be a key flash point soon enough ... Right now is a critical time for Mauritania.

Yesterday's demonstrations were coordinated among nine different groups – each of them taking responsibility for a particular district. Below is a video of the earlier mass protest on March 12:

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 April 2012. Comment.


Questions about Bahrain shooting

The death of a 22-year-old Bahraini man early on Saturday raises new questions about the regime's declared commitment to avoiding brutality when dealing with demonstrators.

Ahmed Ismael Hassan (above) – described as a citizen journalist who regularly filmed protests in the kingdom – was shot in the thigh and died later in hospital. Apparently the bullet had severed an artery.

EAWorldView has an account of what happened, based on interviews with witnesses:

On Friday night, at 11:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) a peaceful protest started in the village of Salmabad, behind the graveyard, near the roundabout on the road. In less than 30 minutes, three riot police SUVs dispersed the protests, knocking down the roadblocks that been placed by demonstraors the road and trying to run over the youths. One of the protesters fell down and the riot police gathered around him; he was beaten, arrested, and taken away.

After the police departed, the protesters regrouped and started march to the main road. About midnight, a civilian Toyota Land Cruiser appeared and a man inside fired five or six rounds, forcing the protesters to retreat inside the village beside the graveyard. When the dark grey Land Cruiser saw them, it tried to break into the village, hitting the barriers. Five or six more shots were fired, with the bullets hitting a building and a street light.

The Land Cruiser left the village and parked on the roundabout near AMA University, as the protesters went out again to the main road in front of the graveyard. Ahmed Ismail was standing in a yard near the main road. The Land Cruiser was pointing red laser beams at the youths.

About 12:30 a.m., the protesters decided to return to the village. As they departed, a man inside the Land Cruiser fired again. Ahmed Ismail Hassan was shot ...

The attackers are said to have been in civilian clothes and the opposition al-Wefaq party has blamed a local militia linked to the regime. The authorities have announced a murder investigation.

The attack comes at a time when Bahrain's security forces are under pressure to clean up their act, and the use of unofficial pro-government vigilantes (also seen in Syria and Egypt) could be one way of circumventing that. If so, it's a worrying development.

Last November, a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), established by the king, urged the government to establish a “standing independent body” to examine complaints of torture or ill-treatment, excessive use of force, or other abuses committed by the authorities. The government has so far resisted this, and complaints are instead being dealt with by the public prosecutor.

The prosecutor is currently investigating 48 officers in connection with 107 cases, which include four deaths, but he doesn't appear to be pursuing them very vigorously. In a report last week, Human Rights Watch said: 

Authorities say they have so far prosecuted 10 security officers in connection with the deaths of six people – four of whom died as a result of torture in government custody and two during the police crackdown on protesters. Seven of the accused face manslaughter charges and a maximum of seven years imprisonment, according to article 336 of the Penal Code. The other three have been charged with failing to report the crime to their superiors and face imprisonment or a fine.

The 10 included five Pakistanis employed in Bahrain’s security forces whom the public prosecutor charged with the April 2011 torture and deaths in custody of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer and Zakaria al-Asherri. Two have been charged with manslaughter and the other three with failing to report the torture to their superior.

In addition, authorities are reportedly prosecuting two Bahraini officers from the National Security Agency in connection with the death of a prominent businessman, Abd al-Karim Fakhrawi, on March 5, 2011. The BICI said that NSA had “failed to conduct an effective investigation into Mr. Fakhrawi’s death, which would satisfy the relevant obligations under international law.”

The public prosecutor also brought charges against a Bahraini police lieutenant – the most senior security official known to have been charged thus far – for the shotgun shooting death of Hani Abd al-Aziz Jumaa in March 2011. Human Rights Watch’s investigation into the death of Jumaa at the time found that his attacker or attackers shot him several times at close range. During a court session in late February 2012, the lawyer of the accused officer told the court that he was “acting in self-defence.”

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 April 2012. Comment.


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April 2012

Death on the Danube ... and a tale of corruption in Libya

Saudi Arabia: a bauble for the king

Libya: a scandal at the oil refinery?

Yemen: the Saleh regime fights back

Mauritania: revolt of the "hand-towels"

Bahrain: shot man "died from a cut"

Mauritania: next in the Arab Spring?

Questions about Bahrain shooting

  

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What's Really Wrong with the Middle East  
Brian Whitaker, 2009


  

 
 
 
 
 


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Last revised on 30 April, 2012