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Cablegate: One Dead in Clashes with Security Forces

VZCZCXRO4791
OO RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #1110 3521234
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 181234Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7499
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHBVAKS/COMUSNAVCENT PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 001110

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2017
TAGS: PGOV ASEC PHUM BA
SUBJECT: ONE DEAD IN CLASHES WITH SECURITY FORCES

REF: MANAMA 1033

Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: One man died during an evening of clashes between Shi'a youths and security forces. While preliminary results of an autopsy supported the government's account that he died of natural causes, many Shi'a are crediting rumors that the man died at the hands of security forces. Websites and text messages are already using the term "martyr," and his death will provide a rallying point for further protests. End summary.

2.(SBU) The government of Bahrain observes a holiday each December 17, the anniversary of King Hamad's accession to the throne. However, for more than a decade Shi'a hardliners have called on Shi'a (who are about 70 percent of Bahrainis) to observe the same day as "Martyrs' Day," and to mark the deaths in the 1980's and 1990's of a number of Shi'a in street clashes with security forces.

3.(SBU) In recent years, central Manama and many Shi'a villages have witnessed small confrontations between protesters and police, chiefly on weekend eveings during the cooler months. Following a familiar pattern, protesters yesterday burned tires and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces, who responded with tear gas and "rubber" bullets.

4.(SBU) Ali Jassim Mekki, a 31 year-old man from the Shi'a village of Jidd Hafs, died late December 17 after reportedly being involved in a clash with security forces in the Sanabis area. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued a statement shortly after Mekki's death asserting that he died of an apparent heart attack. Rumors had already begun to spread within the Shi'a community by text message and e-mail alleging variously that Mekki had suffocated on tear gas, that he had been shot to death by the security forces, that he had been hit by either "rubber" bullets or a tear gas canister, or that he had been severely beaten by police. (Note: PolOffs and Pol and Econ FSNs viewed video and photos of Mekki's body from the waist up. Neither the video, nor the photos showed any outward signs of physical trauma. End note.)

5.(SBU) Shortly after reports of Mekki's death surfaced, the Shi'a Al-Wifaq political society's General Secretariat met with his family and issued a statement calling for a "transparent and fair investigation." Wifaq's statement also noted that the cause of death had not yet been determined. At the urging of Wifaq leader MP Ali Salman, Mekki's family agreed to an autopsy in order to determine the cause of death. (Note: According to one human rights group which had a representative at the hospital, the initial report given to Mekki's family indicated that he most likely died from "acute cardiovascular and respiratory collapse." End note.) The Public Prosecution identified two doctors from the Salmaniya Hospital to perform the post-mortem, which concluded around 2:00 am. A report from the Public Prosecution on the morning of December 18 stated that the doctors had confirmed that Mekki died of a heart attack.

6.(SBU) Pol and Econ FSNs reported separate encounters with Shi'a protesters in the Karbabad area on the evening of December 17. Wifaq members were actively attempting to calm the protesters and convince them to disperse peacefully. Nearby, agitators from the banned Al-Haq movement exhorted the demonstrators to action. Both FSNs heard protesters denouncing Al-Wifaq as "corrupt" and "no better than the government."

7.(C) Comment: The autopsy report will do little to calm Shi'a hot-heads, who have already dubbed Mekki a "martyr." Regardless of the cause, Mekki's death, connected as it was to the "Martyrs' Day" protests, will likely provide an impetus for continued street violence. The protests illustrate the division within Bahrain's Shi'a community between those who believe, with Al-Wifaq, that political participation is the path to change, and those who, with al-Haq, see street violence as the only way to achieve redress for the grievances of Shi'a. End comment.

8. (SBU) Septel reports on emergency action committee meeting. ********************************************* ******** Visit Embassy Manama's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX********************************************* ******** ERELI

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