A Bahrain court has sentenced two policemen to spend seven years in jail for beating a man to death, one of those killed amid anti-government protests last year. The court decision was handed down Sunday, according to Reuters news service and Bahraini news outlets.
The case centered on Karim Fakhrawi, an opposition member who founded an independent newspaper. He died while in police custody after going to a police station to complain, reportedly, about the planned demolition of his house, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He had been accused by the government of falsifying news.
His death in police custody infuriated opposition activists, who spread photos purporting to show his body covered with cuts and bruises. He was one of five people whose deaths were attributed to torture in an independent report commissioned by the government and released last year.
Though a National Security Agency investigation originally found that Fakhrawi had attacked two police officers, the court found that officers had assaulted him, kicking and beating him “in revenge” with a toilet seat, Gulf Daily News reported, citing court documents.
Wefaq, the Bahraini opposition party that Fakhrawi had belonged to, slammed the police sentences as “mocking.” In a Monday statement, it said the government had downplayed the crime as “beating leading to death” instead of torture.
Bringing alleged abusers to justice is one of the pledges that Bahrain made in the wake of a report describing torture and beatings during a government crackdown on the protests, which sought greater democracy and more voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni Muslim monarchy.
The government says it has undertaken major reforms of its security forces and courts, retrained police and dropped charges against hundreds of people. Last week, its interior minister condemned Bahraini police behavior shown on several online videos, including one of a man being kicked and beaten on the street, saying such acts were “unacceptable.”
“Bahrain has made noteworthy steps on the road to correct the mistakes of the past, ensure they not be repeated, and move forward to a brighter future,” government spokesman Fahad A. Binali said in an email to The Times disputing a scathing Amnesty International report last month. Government officials have also pointed in the past to assaults by protesters and charged that Iran is stirring up unrest in the country.
Human rights groups remain unconvinced that Bahrain has fully delivered on its promises, arguing that it has continued to jail dissidents such as human rights activist Nabeel Rajab and failed to pursue charges tied to torture against senior officials. The United States has also pushed for change but has been criticized by local activists for not further stepping up pressure against its Persian Gulf ally.