“Bahrain: Twitter and Birdshot” was this week’s episode title of Le Vinvinteur, a France 5 TV program covering world news with an entertaining twist.
The show’s segment on the situation in Bahrain included showcasing Bahrain Watch’s Access Denied and Arms Watch projects. Focus was put on French company SAE Alsetex, which has been identified by Bahrain Watch as the manufacturer of one of the most heavily used tear gas canisters in the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. SAE Alsetex’s CM & GM series tear gas grenades and BLINIZ & GENL flash grenades have been widely spotted and documented by protesters.
Le Vinvinteur’s editorial chief and investigative journalist Jean-Marc Manach pointed out that according to the French Defense Ministry’s annual report on arms exports, in 2011, two French companies sold Bahrain a total of €421,000 in ML7 “toxic chemical or biological agents” intended for crowd control. Total french arms exports to Bahrain that year amounted to €17 million, mainly in ML4 military equipment.
In addition to supplying the Bahraini government with tear gas and flash grenades, the French government has been sending French police officers from the Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité (CRS) to Bahrain to provide “training for the Special Security Forces in controlling street demonstrations”. These agreements of security and military cooperation have continually been expanded over the years in meetings between members of Bahrain’s royal family and French government officials, such as those in 2007 and 2009 in spite of continuing human rights violations by the Bahraini government at the time.
Against this backdrop, the recent secret meeting between President François Hollande and King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is extremely worrying since, according to Bahrain News Agency, the two leaders agreed to further consolidate military coordination with the establishment of a new joint committee between the countries. The French government has remained silent on the details of the meeting even after HRW, FIDH, Amnesty International, RSF, HRL and ACAT sent a joint letter calling on the French President to clarify France’s position towards the continuing repression by Bahrain’s ruling family.
The unannounced meeting came as a surprise to journalists outside the Elysée palace as mentioned by journalist Nadege Puljak who tweeted the incident.
Through you, I am saluting all FIDH activists, people who often pay the highest price for their courage. In this I include your Vice-President, Mr. Bialiatski, currently imprisoned in Belarus; your Deputy Secretary General Nabil Rajab, currently in prison in Bahrain, and all the members of your institution who are behind bars today simply for asking that justice be done.
Today, by awarding you this distinction, the French Republic reiterates its unwavering commitment to respect for human rights throughout the world.
We hope these sentiments of support will be translated into strong measures against the Bahraini government such as a complete halt to French arms sales to Bahrain.
For more info on reported deaths caused by tear gas check Marc’s blog or PHR’s recent report, Weaponizing Tear Gas: Bahrain’s Unprecedented Use of Toxic Chemical Agents Against Civilians.
Also check Le Pacman’s interview with activist Ahlam Oun for further explanations on this topic.
Update: This story was also covered on LeMonde’s Bug Brother blog. A full-length version of the interview with Reda Al-Fardan was also posted: