24 Dec 2011

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its grave concern over the impact of the excessive use of force on the people, especially the excessive use of tear gas which continue to be used by security forces to suppress protests and as a means of collective punishment against areas of pro-democracy protesters. BCHR has been receiving cases of miscarriages occurring due to the excessive use of tear gas which has already killed at least 10 citizens, including 5 children since March 2011 [1]. Other cases of reported miscarriages were caused either by ill-treatment in detention or psychological and mental conditions which arose due to citizens witnessing the regime’s violence at their workplace or in their homes where their family members were arrested.

After the events of February 14, Bahrain riot police and military where involved in suppressing the pro-democracy movement by the use of brutal and disproportionate force. Security forces used excessive and undisciplined force in residential areas, firing tear gas canisters and sound bombs as a means to harm the local community, and subject them to collective punishment, as documented by a recent report by the Bahraini civil society organizations. Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) stated in their report that 114 cases of tear gas inhalation were reported at Salmaniya Medical Complex in the first 5 days of the protests (14-19 Feb 2011) [2]. The report also gave personal accounts proving the use of force, which was used excessively against peaceful pro-democracy protesters and as a form of collective punishment on areas which largely consist of the opposition.

The excessive use of force has resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, and many have become permanently disabled. One of the impacts of the excessive use of force that has been reported to BCHR is miscarriages or spontaneous abortions of pregnant women. BCHR has consulted physicians who reviewed the received cases and medical reports. Medically, spontaneous abortion differs from the induced type where medical pharmacological drugs play the key part in the process. It must be noted that causes of spontaneous abortion can attribute half of the cases to chromosomal defects where a smaller fraction can be caused by maternal infections and bad health, chronic diseases, female reproductive system abnormalities, fear, medical or surgical shock, loss of consciousness, trauma and emotional stress.

21 cases of miscarriage or spontaneous abortion that occured between Mar-Nov 2011 were reported to the center. 67% of the cases were due to excessive use of toxic gases, tear gas and other forms, whether as a means of suppressing a protest or attacking a whole area.

Fatima is married and has a son and daughter. In March 2011 when Bahrain Financial Harbor (BFH) was attacked by security forces to end a peaceful protest, she was pregnant in her forth month. She says that like her previous pregnancy, everything was normal and nothing was abnormal based on routine checkups. Fatima works in the BFH, and out of curiosity she went to the roof of the building along with her colleagues to see what was going on. She describes seeing clouds of gases fired at the protesters, resulting to her fainting due to inhaling the gases. Her colleagues helped her to leave work as it wasn’t safe for her to be there as a pregnant woman. After two weeks of the incident, she went for a checkup and was shocked when the doctor told her that the fetus was dead two weeks ago according to the ultrasound. She says that the doctor confirmed that her case was the third similar case she had received in the same day, all of which involved the death of the fetuses two weeks prior.

Zahraa lives in Ma’ameer, where they are exposed to toxic gases on a daily basis. She found out on November 4 that her fetus has been dead since the end of October which was her forth month of pregnancy before the miscarriage. She says that it wasn’t only her who had a miscarriage but also her sister-in-law who lived in the same building, her sister-in-law’s sister who lived in the same area, and her aunt. Zahraa has one son and although she had to travel when she was pregnant with him, she never faced any problems with her pregnancy which was normal.

The use of tear gas was well documented in many cases in many countries in the current and previous years to cause abortion. In addition, menstrual abnormalities were also noted mainly due to emotional stress but a single biological factor to cause this abnormality was yet to be found. Cases which were reported in several countries were considered to be a feticide and sufferers were allowed to file legal actions against governments which used these chemical weapons to control riots.

Some of the direct effects of tear gases on pregnant women can be attributed to the effect of breathing and subsequently effecting the fetus breathing, the loss of consciousness which can also cut oxygen supply to the fetus in critical periods of its life, direct trauma from tear gas cans or rubber bullets which were shown to cause internal and external bleeding, formation of abscesses which can cause systemic infections and decreasing the pregnant women immunities and can contribute to birth defects.

Some of the indirect effects of tear gases on pregnant women can be attributed to the emotional stress and fear which can cause psychological impact affecting the brains ability to secrete essential hormones necessary to maintain a healthy pregnancy and then can directly lead to spontaneous abortions.

Around 26% of the cases of miscarriages documented by BCHR were due to fear and terror, where women had been through emotional trauma and stress. One of the women says that one night while she was asleep, security forces started a violent crackdown on her village using sound grenades and tear gas. She woke up in terror. After that night, she started having health problems until she had a miscarriage. She says her doctor didn’t see any reason for her miscarriage except the terror she went through that night. Mona’s husband reported the miscarriage of his wife. He said that his wife had a miscarriage after they raided his house to arrest at dawn.

A few cases were reported of miscarriages due to detention and arrest, although the number is believed to be higher. Um Abbas, who works in BFH, had to pass by checkpoints everyday on her way to work. They would ask for her work ID and let her pass. One day they stopped her, asked for her ID as usual and when the officer read her name, he asked her to pull over. She said that they searched her car, handbag and mobile phone thoroughly. “A soldier opened the passenger seat’s door and another one came to my side and they both started questioning me and cursing and calling me names, because I’m from the Shia sect and I have a detained brother who is a known athlete”. Um Abbas was threatened to be arrested when she pleaded for them not to arrest her because she was pregnant. After two hours of humiliating questions, being cursed at and called names, she started having cramps. That’s when they allowed her to leave. After a whole day of pain, she was admitted to the hospital. Doctors tried to save the baby, but she lost him after two weeks. The use of torture, mental or physical, or direct trauma can physiologically cause the placenta to detach and spontaneous abortion to occur.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls to: - Immediately end the violent repression of protests and to completely cease the excessive use of tear gas and the act of collective punishment. - Bahrain authorities to hold security forces accountable over the use of excessive force. - To recognize and respect the fundamental right to assembly. - Calls on the free world to stop the sale of weapons to the Bahraini government, especially toxic gases which include tear gas. - BCHR urges human rights organizations and women rights groups to take urgent action to ensure the safety and stability of Bahraini women and children.

**The statement has been written consulting physicians who reviewed cases and medical reports.

Also check:

  • Bahrain: Infant suffocated to death with tear gas
  • Video - member of the police throw a tear gas grenade and a child is in the car
  • Video -Police throwing tear gas canister INSIDE houses in Sitra
  • a second video showing Police throwing tear gas canister INSIDE houses
  • a third video showing Police throwing tear gas canister INSIDE houses
  • Lethal Non-Lethal Weapons: The Deadly Effects of Tear Gas in Bahrain
  • Amnesty International: Arms trade to Middle East and North Africa shows failure of export controls

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    [1] List of the killed persons in Bahrain since Feb 14, 2011 [2] Paragraph 682 of BICI report