The sentencing of two policemen over the death of opposition politician and journalist Karim Fakhrawi shows a blatant disregard for the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).
The two were jailed for seven years each, with the charges relating to abuse of a prisoner. In doing so it divorces the case from the systematic torture highlighted in the BICI and treats the case as an isolated incident of abuse rather than torture.
The BICI referred to the incident saying, “the witnesses claimed that they had heard him screaming, “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) after every blow he received, and that all of a sudden he stopped. The witnesses stated that after the deceased stopped screaming, they heard one person say to another,“ You killed him.”
Concluding that, “the death of Mr Fakhrawi is attributed to torture while in the custody of the NSA.”
The BICI also made clear that torture whilst in detention was not a one-off thing saying, ““On the basis of the Commission’s investigation and particularly the forensic medical reports, it finds that the NSA and MoI followed a systematic practice of physical and psychological mistreatment, which in many cases amounted to torture, with respect to a large number of detainees in their custody.”
Such a conclusion could not be clearer and the decision to sentence two officers for just 7 years is a clear defiance of the BICI recommendation to “establish a national independent and impartial mechanism to determine the accountability of those in government who have committed unlawful or negligent acts resulting in the deaths, torture and mistreatment of civilians with a view to bringing legal and disciplinary action against such individuals, including those in the chain of command, military and civilian, who are found to be responsible under international standards of “superior responsibility”.”
Despite paying lip service to the BICI, this sentencing only serves to prove the lack of respect the authorities in Bahrain are paying to the BICI. In November 2012 Bahrain received widespread condemnation for failing to implement the BICI, including the Chair of the Commission Cherif Bassiouni.
The BICI aimed to avoid the scapegoating of low-level officers for crimes that clearly go beyond the perpetrators. What’s more the sentence of just 7 years for murder, caused by torture, can be compared to the life sentences handed out to opposition figures that have always called for peaceful protest.
Organising and participating in mass protests is considered a worse crime than torture and murder. This is the state of the justice system in Bahrain.
Al Wefaq, of whom Fakhrawi was a founding member, criticised the length of the sentence as well as the charges. Sayed Hadi Almusawi, Head of their Human Rights Department said, “”The prosecutor changed the charges from ‘torture leading to death’ to ‘beating leading to death’. They don’t want to admit that there was torture.”
Fakhrawi was arrested in April 2011 after visiting a police station to complain about the demolishing of his home. He was killed a week later.
This case is another chapter in the ongoing story of the BICI being sidelined by the Bahrain authorities. More than a year since its publication the BICI is being used by the regime only to give the impression of reform, rather than as a framework for improving the country.
The violations considered in the report continue to this day and reform remains a distant goal, but one that the people refuse to stop seeking.