Rubber bullets are nasty. They sound quite benign but they are not. They came in many sizes and fracture bones, cause head, eye and ear injury and can penetrate the skin. They can also kill you. These are what Bahraini police continue to fire at villagers in Bahrain night after night as they do teargas canisters too, some at very close range. This video clip from Al Jazeera shows the reality of Bahraini daily life today.
If you are injured by rubber bullets or experience injury from any kind of police or military weapon, you cannot go to hospital or get medical help, even now. It is not safe. So Bahrainis continue to be injured and hundreds still have pellet bullets in their bodies from being fired at during the major protests earlier this year. As they also haven’t been able to get medical help to have the bullets removed, the bullets sit under the skin and provide corrugations.
But despite Bahraini’s continuing to be harmed by their own government, the British have invited Bahrain to a huge arms fair in London. Delegations from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries with regimes described as authoritarian by human rights groups received invitations to The Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition. More than half the exhibitors are UK based and include Tactica whose Saudi armoured vehicles were part of suppressing the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain earlier this year. (Source). Interestingly, Libya which was invited the last time the exhibition was held when it was still under Gaddafi, has not been invited this year.
“We have an industry that as a nation we should be proud of,” said Rees Ward, chief executive of ADS, the defence and security trade group”…. ADS estimates that the defence sector employs 110,000 people in the UK directly, creating more than £22bn in annual sales last year, £9.5bn of which were exports. (Source).
Many arms export licences to Bahrain were revoked by the British government after the Bahraini regime’s suppression of the pro-democracy protests earlier this year. When challenged about inviting delegates from countries like Bahrain, the British governments commented, “Just because delegates come here doesn’t mean they will get equipment” and says that licence rules still apply. “An invitation does not mean that licenses will automatically be issued for the goods exhibited”. This may be so, but the question is why countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been invited. Although invitations to the exhibition are made by UK Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office decided on which country to invite. (Source)
Amnesty International accused the British government of a “serious error in judgement” in inviting the Bahraini regime. The charity’s arms programme director Oliver Sprague said: “No government which is known to maim, kill and torture its own people should ever be allowed to attend a fair to shop for weapons. “This decision also appears to be at odds with Britain’s previous censure of the violence carried out by Bahrain’s state security forces, which left scores of the country’s people dead or injured.” (Source)
Mr Sprague said it was “ludicrous that they would enable the same government to window shop for weapons on British soil.”They will be here perusing the wares on offer and will undoubtedly arrange future arms sales when far out of the reach of the British arms licensing regime. The invitation makes a mockery of any claim that Bahrain’s access to arms is being moderated.”
The Guardian has an excellent article on Bahrain being invited to the arms fair and the different stance Britain has taken towards the Libyan and Bahraini regimes. “ Britain presents an unpredictable face to the world, colluding in Gaddafi’s brutality one moment then bombing him the next. Now the mixed messages sent to those seeking fundamental human rights sow further confusion. It can only serve to fuel cynicism that our stance towards the Arab spring is based more on commerce than ethics” The full article is worth reading. .
Maybe this comment from a Bahraini newspaper will help with any confusion you may have about this Bahraini-British relationship. The article begins by saying that Britain is a long-standing close friend of Bahrain. The new British ambassador to Bahrain was quoted as saying,’ “Bahrain has been through a difficult period over the last six months and the role of friends is to help each other in times of need.” He also said that he hoped to “deepen and broaden the already close relationship of the two countries and develop new areas of collaboration in trade and investment, education and healthcare, among others”. Well, what a surprise – perhaps that might include more guns, tanks and tear gas cylinders?