29 Apr 2012

Smuggled footage of Bahrain crackdown

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller takes up the story of the anti-government protest movement in Bahrain, a week after being arrested and deported.

Bahrain protester

With journalists being denied visas or refused entry, a Channel 4 News crew flew into Bahrain as tourists. Last Sunday, they were caught filming illegally and thrown out of the country before they could file their report.

Footage they filmed that day has now been smuggled out of Bahrain.

The team were in the country as the Formula One Grand Prix brought continued unrest in the Arab kingdom to international attention.

The demonstrators, many of them Shia Muslims, complaining about life under what they say is an oppressive Sunni monarchy had promised to stage a “day of rage”.

But a heavy police presence was evident in the capital Manama and in villages around the small Gulf state.

The Channel 4 News team was arrested after a police helicopter spotted them and alerted police units on the ground.

Residents had been telling them of injustice and inequality between Shias and Sunnis. Some made allegations of police brutality and torture.

Activist Dr Ala’a Shehabi, who holds dual Bahraini and British citizenship, was in the country with the Channel 4 News team.

She was arrested but later freed by the Bahraini government and returned to London.

Speaking on Sunday, she said: “The protests have been unabated. They have been happening across the whole country and they are continuing.

“With the silence of the western governments over the continued repression in Bahrain, we are not going to see any solution over the horizon.

“That’s the danger, that it enters into a stalemate and continues to go downhill. Things are unravelling and unfolding on a dangerous scale at the moment.”

Gulf union plans

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is pushing ahead with plans for a political union with Bahrain and other Gulf states that would involve joint foreign and defence policies.

The Shia-led unrest is resurging in Bahrain a year after the ruling Al Khalifa family first brought in Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops to help suppress an uprising seen by Gulf rulers as sectarian in nature and driven by the Shia regional superpower Iran.

Gulf leaders fear Bahrain will fall into the orbit of anti-Western, clergy-ruled Iran if the Shia opposition wins a stake in government and the Al Khalifa family, distant relatives of Saudi Arabia’s Al Saud, loses some of its extensive powers.

The opposition, led by the Shia Islamist Wefaq party, denies Iran links, saying it has Sunnis and secularists in its ranks.