4 May 2012
The day we had chosen to go with a medic to Boori village was a special religious day for Shia Muslims; 13th Jamada Thani 1428 A.H. – the anniversary of the death of Hazrat Fatima bint-e-Hazm bin Khalid (also known as Umm-ul-Baneen) – the wife of Imam Ali (a.s.) and mother of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) which meant than the streets were fairly quiet in comparison to a regular night in a Manama village since 14th of February 2011. The streets were still blocked around the village to slow down possible riot police troops entering the village, but there was no night protest as usual, only an earlier one that took place at 4 pm. People in the streets were singing a traditional song for funerals while synchronically clapping their chest with one hand.
We drove to one of the homes in the village were the medic would later show up. At first there were three injured people and a group of very young guys waiting with their injured friend. As the rumor spread that there was an international in the house documenting cases of injury from protests, more people came; but there was no way I could cover all of the stories and cases of those who came in one night.
As we waited for the medic, I began speaking to 15-year-old Ali. He had been shot all over his body with birdshot pellets while attending a peaceful protest the day before (see photo). When the medic later showed up he told me that when demonstrators had brought the boy to the house the day before, he had been completely covered in blood and almost unconscious.
I used to be a substitute school teacher in primary and secondary schools and young Ali really reminded me of the boys I used to teach, who having done something really cool or special, are excited to tell the rest of the class about it. He was a bit shy at first, being the only one speaking in a room full of his friends and other much older protesters, as well as the family of the house. He didn’t give out any details except for the ones I specifically asked for. But then he opened up more.
The protest involved a little over 100 people, both woman and men, old and young. After the march around the village ended, about 60 people remained outside; that’s when the riot police attacked. They began shooting teargas, aiming directly at the villagers. Some protesters grabbed the teargas canisters with their hands just after they hit the ground and threw them back in the direction of the riot police. The whole center of the village became covered in teargas the boy told me, lifting his eyebrows and his brown eyes wide open, indicating that he was overwhelmed by the details of his own story.
Ali was one of the people picking up teargas canisters to throw them back at the police who were dressed in full riot gear, with helmets, masks and padding protecting their entire bodies.
Then the riot police began shooting birdshot at the crowd of people. They seemed to be randomly firing at the whole crowd, but of course Ali couldn’t tell what their exact strategy was. At least five police officers dressed as civilians also entered the crowd with shotguns and started chasing and shooting at people. He was one of the worst injured people in Boori that night. His body was completely covered in wounds from shots when I spoke to him. In total there were 38 people reportedly injured from birdshot pellets that night throughout Bahrain. Ali was shot around 12:15 at night and taken to a private home in the village were a medic could treat him shortly afterwards.
As I have asked injured protesters before, I asked Ali what the goal from protesting was and if he had changed his views or if his enthusiasm had waned after being injured? He replied (translated from Arabic): “I want a complete change of the regime; I’m not afraid of anything; I’m just proud to serve my country.”
When the medic had arrived Ali got up and sat down in a chair next to him ready to start the process of extracting more bullets from his body. It looked extremely painful and a lot of blood came out while the medic was digging for the bullets. Sometimes small peeps of pain escaped the young boy’s mouth, but in general he bravely endured the process remaining calm and quiet.
Next I spoke to 27-year-old Ammar. He had been shot with birdshot pellets all over his back and his scalp. Some of the bullets were lodged in very dangerous places in his head, the medic told me, and he could not tell if it was possible to remove them due to the swelling.
Ammar was injured on the 1st of May, also in Boori Village. Around 300 people had attended the protest on that evening. At first the riot police fired tear gas all over the center of Boori, just like the night Ali was injured. Then, when the demonstrators dispersed, the police chased people into the village, hiding in different places in an attempt to catch protesters, either to arrest them or hurt them. Ammar and another young man were both being chased when the other guy tried to jump a wall. As he was doing so, he was directly hit with a teargas canister and fell to the ground. After he was down, the police turned their attention on Ammar, shooting him in his back and head, then leaving him wounded on the ground. Covered in blood, Ammar managed to get up and walk to a random private home from where the family helped him get to the house that was serving as a makeshift clinic. A total of 16 bullets were found in his body and at the time of this interview, nine bullets still remained.
Salman, another wounded protester, has been injured several times within the past month. He came to the house only able to walk on one foot, and with scars from tear gas canisters and a sound bomb on one hand and one ear. Another was 21-year-old Abdallah, who was now completely blind in his left eye from a birdshot pellet fired directly into a protesting crowd.
As I didn’t have time to go through all the injured people who had gathered at the house, I only did a couple more short interviews, but made sure to thank everyone for coming to share their experiences. The last person I spoke to was another young man named Ali, 17-years-old. The other guys pushed him towards the chair next to me where the other interviewed people had been sitting and I realized there was something about this case that everyone in the room thought was extremely funny. My translator had to try hard to pull himself together so as to not burst out laughing. Even Ali himself had a big smile on his face and his voice was almost cracking while he explained what happened. When my translator relayed the story I found out that what everyone thought was so funny was that Ali was shot in his butt cheeks. Normally I wouldn’t consider someone getting shot anywhere as a funny story, but the light atmosphere and positive vibrations that filled the room while he was telling his story put me in a good mood, even under these rather sad circumstances. Ali allowed me to photograph part of his back but obviously not the more private parts of his injured body.
After I completed the interviews, the host family brought in a very nice meal with soft drinks for everyone and the whole evening strangely turned into a very nice local gathering with a lot of chatter & laughter. All the while the medic kept removing the bullets from the injured protesters’ bodies. What a night.