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Bahrain Convictions Provide Welcome — Though Still Rare — Measure of Justice

For Immediate Release

The recent conviction of two Bahraini intelligence agents in the April 2011 beating death of a Shia businessman provides a welcome dose of justice in that troubled Gulf kingdom, PHR said today. But the seven-year sentences were very lenient, given the severity of the crime, and high-ranking officials who encouraged or condoned such behavior have still never been charged.

Bahrain’s High Criminal Court convicted the two men of manslaughter in the death of Karim Fakhawri, a founder and board member of the Al-Wasat opposition newspaper, who was detained after he had gone to the police station to complain about the planned demolition of his house.

Court documents reportedly said that the two agents beat Fakhawri with a toilet seat repeatedly, even after he had fallen to the ground and ceased all resistance.

An April 2011 report by PHR concludes, based on postmortem photographs of Fakhawri, that he died in custody with extensive soft-tissue injuries consistent with torture, though the exact cause of death could not be ascertained because no autopsy was performed.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, released in November 2011, concluded that Fakhawri had died after being tortured. But the prosecutor in the case dropped the torture allegation and instead accused the two policemen of the less serious charge of “beating leading to death.” The maximum sentence for “torture leading to death” is life imprisonment.

“The court’s sentences, though not commensurate with the magnitude of the human rights abuses, provide some grounds for hoping that Bahrain may eventually sanction some of the perpetrators of the most egregious abuses,” said Richard Sollom, deputy director of PHR. “But the regime still has done far too little to implement promised reforms of its security and judicial systems, and has shown no willingness to pursue charges against senior officials implicated in human rights violations.”

The BICI report concluded that in light of the pattern of impunity for torture, the Government should ensure punishment consistent with the gravity of the offense. But despite the regime’s 2011 pledge to implement the report’s recommended reforms, torture reportedly continues today in secret detention facilities.

Lawyers for the two agents have indicated that they will appeal the convictions.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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