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April 18, 2012

Bahrain Watch Identifies Cyprus, UK, and Italian Birdshot, and Other Live Ammunition

[Manama] Activist group Bahrain Watch has observed a dramatic escalation in the use of birdshot and live ammunition by police against protesters over the past week, as well as a marked increase in related injuries.  Many individuals are reported injured in the back, raising serious questions about whether police are using proportional force and are discharging their firearms only as a last resort, as required by Bahrain’s new police code of conduct.  Meanwhile, new video shows policemen laughing as they repeatedly beat an arrestee with their shotguns, the result of continuing impunity.

Bahrain Watch has identified six birdshot manufacturers, and four manufacturers of live ammunition whose products have been used in Bahrain.  The widespread use of these types of ammunition to control protests and riots makes Bahrain an international pariah in policing.

What is birdshot?

Broadly, ammunition for shotguns is referred to as “shot,” and consists of pellets of a certain material inside a cartridge.  Larger pellets are referred to as “buckshot,” whereas smaller pellets are called “birdshot.”  Within the category of birdshot, shot is assigned a number to indicate the diameter of the pellets.  Bahrain Watch has observed two sizes of metallic birdshot in Bahrain: #2 birdshot (pellet diameter of about 3.8mm), and #8 birdshot (pellet diameter of about 2.2mm).  Typically, a #2 birdshot cartridge would have on the order of 100 pellets, whereas a #8 birdshot cartridge would have on the order of 500 pellets, assuming pellets are made of lead or a similar metal.  Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior denies that it uses #2 birdshot.

Birdshot is typically used for hunting animals, or for clay shooting, where competitors shoot to break flying stone discs.  Metallic birdshot is almost never used for riot control.  When shotguns are employed for riot control in other countries, officers typically shoot “less-lethal” ammunition such as “beanbag rounds.”  In contrast, Bahrain’s police primarily use cartridges specifically designed and marketed for hunting or clay shooting.  Eleven civilians were killed with birdshot in Bahrain during 2011 according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and Human Rights Watch, and scores have been injured throughout 2011 and 2012.

April 18, 2012: Bahrain’s birdshot night

While Bahrain Watch has observed near-continuous use of birdshot since the start of the uprising in February 2011, reports of birdshot use and injuries have dramatically spiked in the last week.  On 12 and 13 April 2012, Bahrain Watch noted an abnormally large number of images of shotgun cartridges posted by activists from at least seven areas around Bahrain (A’ali, Bani Jamrah, Sehla, Ma’ameer, Sitra, and Duraz).  On 13 April, an individual was seriously injured by birdshot at a funeral, and remains in the hospital.

On 18 April 2012, Bahrain Watch noted an unusually large number of images and videos of birdshot injuries from at least five areas around Bahrain.  Reports on Twitter claimed up to 23 were injured by shotgun pellets on the night of 18 April.  No medical records exist, as birdshot victims are treated in private homes; presenting at a hospital with a birdshot injury may mean arrest.  Through pictures posted by village news networks and activists, Bahrain Watch has seen at least 11 of these injured individuals.

Bahrain Watch first performs reverse image searches on all posted images to validate their recency  To identify distinct injuries, images from a given village are compared with each other.

Bahrain Watch stresses that the number of injuries is likely to be higher than 11, but cannot determine the number of additional distinct individuals injured.  A description of the observed injuries from 18 April follows.

In Sanabis, where protesters chanted anti-regime slogans during a visit by Bahrain’s Crown Prince earlier that day, multiple injuries were reported in the evening.  A village news agency in Sanabis posted a photo album of injuries.  Among other birdshot injuries, the album shows:
In the village of Abu Quwah, photos show:
On the island of Sitra, photos and videos show:
  • An individual with more than 30 pellets mainly on the right side of his body.  16 pellets are visible in this still image, and the remaining pellets are seen in this video (0:05 - 0:29).
  • An individual with approximately 18 pellets mainly on the right side of his body, also seen in this video (0:48-1:12).
  • An individual with approximately 11 pellets spread out across the back of his body, seen in this video (0:30 - 0:46).
In the village of Karranah, a photo shows:
In the village of A’ali, photos show:
  • An individual with more than 35 pellets, mainly on the front-right side of his body (Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3).

Bahrain’s top cartridge: Victory Starlight by G&L Calibers Ltd. (Cyprus):

The most popular shotgun cartridge said used by Bahrain’s police is the Victory Starlight, a product of Cyprus’ G&L Calibers Ltd; the company bills itself as a manufacturer of ammunition for “hunting and clay shooting.”  Bahrain Watch has observed this cartridge in use since at least 17 February 2011, and most recently on 13 April 2012.  In total, the cartridge has been reported used in at least eleven areas since 17 February 2011.  In April 2012 alone, the cartridge has been observed in Ma’ameer, A’ali, Sitra, Bani Jamrah, and Duraz.  The cartridge is identifiable by the word “STARLIGHT” in all-caps, shaped semi-circularly over the marking “32gr” (indicating a weight of 32 grams) which is in turn over the Victory logo.  To the right, a large “8” (indicating #8 birdshot) is located above a vertical line, broken by the marking “70” (indicating the length of the cartridge in millimeters).  The birdshot is believed to be made out of lead.  The cartridge’s metallic headstamp reads “Victory 12 Victory 12.”

Bahrain Watch believes that the Victory Starlight cartridge may have been involved in at least two shotgun killings in 2011.  An image taken in the room where police killed Hani Abdulaziz Abdulla Jumaa in March 2011 shows three Victory Starlight cartridges on the floor.  Further, the plastic remnants of a shotgun cartridge extracted from Ali Moumen’s leg are the same color as the Victory Starlight, and bear the plastic headstamp “G - L” (warning: graphic image).  Ali Moumen was killed by police near the Pearl Roundabout in February of last year.

#2 and #8 birdshot from Gamebore (UK) owned by Kent Gamebore (US):

Birdshot from UK manufacturer Gamebore (owned by US parent company Kent Gamebore) has also been seen in Bahrain.  The cartridge can be identified by the presence of the Gamebore logo, followed by two lines: “ -- 67mm -- ” (indicating the length of the cartridge in millimeters), and “X - 32gms,” where the X is either 2 or 8 (indicating #2 or #8 birdshot).  The “32gms” indicates that the cartridge contains 32 grams of birdshot.  The birdshot is believed to be metallic.  The cartridge’s metallic headstamp is believed to read “12 * 12 * 12 * 12 *.” Bahrain Watch cannot identify the specific model or name of this cartridge.

Of particular note is that this Gamebore cartridge has been observed in both #2 and #8 birdshot sizes.  The Ministry of Interior says it does not use #2 birdshot; it first asserted this to deny involvement in the death of Ahmed Jaber al-Qattan, who was shot in October 2011 with #2 birdshot.  A policeman later testified at trial in an unrelated case that the Ministry of Interior only “allows [police] to use” #8 birdshot.  Bahrain Watch does not have enough information to conclude whether Gamebore cartridges are used by police, another agency such as Bahrain’s NSA, or independent pro-government militias.

Gamebore cartridges have been observed in at least two areas in Bahrain.  So far in April 2012, the cartridge has only been observed in Ma’ameer.  Photos from Ma’ameer do not show the size of birdshot in the cartridge.  Another recent sighting of Gamebore cartridges was in the village of al-Dair on 6 February 2012.  The most recent photo of a #2 cartridge was posted on 26 December 2011 in the village of al-Dair.  Several undated pictures of both #2 and #8 Gamebore cartridges were uploaded to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights’ Flickr account on 4 August 2011.

Hunting with dogs: V3 Feltro by Pegoraro Sport (Italy)

Italian manufacturer Pegoraro Sport claims that its V3 Feltro cartridge, seen in Bahrain, is specifically designed for “hunting with setters” (dogs).  The cartridge is identifiable by a large letter “V” surrounded by a circle; in the bottom right of the circle, the number “3” overlaps and breaks the circle.  Below, the word “temperato” appears in lowercase.  The metallic headstamp reads “CHEDDITE 12.”  The size of birdshot in these cartridges is unknown, but the manufacturer’s website lists the pellet material as lead, and notes that the cartridge contains 36 grams of birdshot.

V3 Feltro cartridges have been observed in at least two areas in Bahrain: al-Dair and Sanabis.  The cartridge was most recently spotted in Sanabis on 6 February 2012.  Again, Bahrain Watch is unable to conclude whether this cartridge is used by police, another agency such as Bahrain’s NSA, or independent pro-government militias.

Olympic clay shooting: Pro-One International Trap by Hull Cartridge (UK)

The “International Trap” in the name of the cartridge refers to the Olympic sport.  The official rules for International Trap, which specify what type of shotgun cartridges are allowed, can be found starting from page 361 of this document.  The cartridge can be identified by the words “PRO” and “ONE,” written in all-caps hollow letters, separated by a hollow rhombus.  Underneath, the word “INTERNATIONAL” is written in all caps, below which the word “TRAP” is written in all-caps.  The cartridge has only been observed once in Bahrain, on 8 April 2012 in the village of al-Eker.  A similar cartridge, the Pro-One International Skeet, can be seen in this image (not from Bahrain).  Again, Bahrain Watch is unable to conclude whether this cartridge is used by police, another agency such as Bahrain’s NSA, or independent pro-government militias.

Other birdshot: PL32 by Fiocchi (Italy); RC Cartridge (Italy)

Since 14 February 2011, the PL32 cartridge, made by Italian manufacturer Fiocchi, and an unidentified cartridge made by Italian manufacturer RC Cartridge have both been observed in Bahrain.  However, it is not known if these cartridges have been used in 2012.  Additionally, there is at least one shotgun cartridge observed in April 2012 that Bahrain Watch is unable to identify.  Again, Bahrain Watch is unable to conclude whether these cartridges are used by police, another agency such as Bahrain’s NSA, or independent pro-government militias.

Live ammunition in Bahrain

Live ammunition has been observed in Bahrain throughout 2012.  On 14 April 2012, residents in Sitra posted a picture of live ammunition they said was fired the same night.  Based on the headstamp visible in the picture, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) believes that the ammunition was manufactured in Bulgaria in 1987.  The type of cartridge is not identifiable from the photo.

On 6 April 2012, residents in Ma’ameer documented the use of pistols by members of the Special Security Force Command (a militarized subset of Bahrain’s police that participate in riot control operations).  Residents posted a video showing the ammunition, including its headstamp.  Bahrain Watch has so far been unable to identify the type of ammunition or the manufacturer.

Other ammunition observed in 2012 includes 9x19 rounds from Czech Manufacturer Sellier & Bellot and Turkish manufacturer MKEK.  So far in 2012, this type of ammunition has been observed in Salmabad and most recently on 31 March 2012 in Duraz.  Similar Sellier & Bellot 9x19 rounds were also apparently observed in Tahrir Square last year.  45 Colt cartridges from US manufacturer Remington have also been observed in Bahrain on two occasions so far in 2012, most recently on 13 April.

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism.  About Bahrain Watch: