Update 1: The Death of Qais Al-Omari

Update 1 (November 16th, 2012): Qais Al-Omari was laid to rest by his family today in Irbid. Although he was initially reported to be 22 years old, he was in fact 27 and married, and his wife and mother mourned him along with other relatives before his funeral in a photo published by the Associated Press. He is already being referred to as “the martyr of the price hikes” by demonstrators.

It is still not entirely clear what exactly took place on Wednesday night at the police station in the town of Kfar Asad (which is in the Wasitiyeh district of Irbid), but what is clear is that the police gave an inaccurate report of what took place, and that they were able to fool both the Associated Press and BBC into believing their version of events. If something like this were to happen in the United States, in which police shot an unarmed man and then misled the media into believing it was part of an armed attack it would most likely be front page news the next day. The unnamed source who told reporters this information was likely used by the police to cover up the incident.

According to the account of Firas el-Azzam, (which can be found beginning at the fifth paragraph of this New York Times article) who was another protester there at the time, al-Omari was “part of a group of about 30 unarmed men who walked to the police station to complain about abusive language they said officers had used while breaking up an earlier protest.” The confronted police at the front door of the police station about the language they had used, and this was when the police opened fire, killing al-Omari and wounding three others. Angry crowds then attacked a municipal building and burned government vehicles. This violence (which broke out in response to Al-Omari’s death) then gave the police the opportunity to cover up shooting an unarmed protester, son, and husband by saying that he was part of an armed attack.

Other than a confirmation of his death, we have heard nothing from the government about the death of an unarmed protester who wanted only to express his anger at the treatment by police who sought to suppress his right to speak out against the fuel price hike, and then misled the media into believing it was part of an armed attack.

Initial Post (November 15th, 2012): Here is what we know: yesterday Qais Al-Omari, a 22-year-old young man involved in youth activist movements participating in the ongoing protests was killed by police in Wasatiyeh (on the outskirts of Irbid) as part of an incident at a police station. Nothing else is clear. The story has changed since the incident took place to the extent that its not entirely clear what happened at all, and it seems increasingly likely that the story told by police isn’t accurate. After all, they have a vested interest in attempting to cover up facts that are contrary to the official account. With the people of Jordan protesting against the government following the fuel price increase, it is only natural that the security forces would seek to prevent Qais Al-Omari from becoming a martyr for those demonstrating.

According to the version told by police (and initially carried by both BBC and the Associated Press), it was part of an attack by gunmen against a police station that resulted in 17 people being wounded, including 13 police officers. However, this version of the story has one major flaw – it was based largely on accounts of the incident given by the police themselves. According to an unnamed source (who was, in familiar parlance, not authorized to comment publicly), the police were investigating the incident. In a country with a regime that is on the ropes after increasing unrest, the police would have every reason to cover up the death of an innocent person, even if there was such an attack and Qais Al-Omari was a protester caught in the crossfire.

A clue that there is more to the story than it seems: In the Associated Press story, someone from Wasatiyeh identifies him as a 22-year-old youth activist Qais Al-Omari, but insisted on anonymity becuase they were afraid of the police seeking retribution against them. Why would someone need to fear retribution from police if the version of the story that the police told were accurate?

Today more information has come out. Another version of the story came out in Reuters, which said that “The protester was killed and scores were injured during an attack on a police station in the country’s second-largest city of Irbid, the witnesses said.” A score is 20. “Scores” means that there were significant numbers of people injured in the attack. However, in the original version of the story published by the Associated Press, there were only four people injured, in addition to the 13 police officers. The story has changed and it doesn’t seem that very many, at least in English-language media, have been paying attention to it.

More information has also come out from inside Jordan. According to @Freedom_Jordan, Al-Omari’s family has refused to bury him and they deny that he broke into the police station, and his tribe is meeting to discuss the consequences of his death.

In these circumstances, with the people of Jordan rising up against repression, the regime has a vested interest in making sure that an innocent person shot by police does not come to be a martyr. We don’t know what happened in Wasatiyeh, but a young activist is dead and the person who identified him fears retribution from police. Stay tuned. This could be one of the sparks that helps ignite a revolution.

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