Last updated: 27 June, 2012

Bahrain releases leading activist and pays uprising victims

Bahrain released from jail on Wednesday leading Shiite rights activist Nabil Rajab, his lawyer said, after the government announced $2.6 million compensation for 17 people killed in last year’s bloody crackdown.

Rajab was released three weeks after his arrest for tweeting insults deemed insulting to Sunnis, his lawyer told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the next hearing in his client’s case was set for July 9.

Rajab was detained on June 6 after he was accused of “public insults” made on tweets against the predominantly Sunni population of the province of Muharaq, according to prosecutors.

In a statement earlier this month, prosecutors said they received complaints that Rajab “talked on social networks about the people of Muharaq in a way that questioned their patriotism and insulted them.”

Last year, a significant part of the Sunni community rallied around the government as Shiites led protests against the regime of the ruling Sunni Al-Khalifa family.

This is the second time Rajab has been arrested and then released in the last two months.

He was first taken into custody on May 5 for posting tweets deemed insulting to security forces. He was released on bail on May 28 and re-arrested on June 6.

Rajab is now on trial for four separate charges — two for posting comments on Twitter deemed insulting to the government and the kingdom’s Sunni population and two others for protests.

In a separate announcement late Tuesday, the government said it had paid out $2.6 million in compensation to the families of 17 people killed in the mid-March 2011 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, a government statement said.

It was the first time the authorities had paid compensation for those who perished when the security forces crushed the kingdom’s Arab Spring uprising, leaving 35 people dead, according to an independent inquiry.

The statement said the compensation payments came in response to a recommendation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, set up by King Hamad to probe allegations of government wrong-doing and excessive use of force by the security forces.

“Acting upon recommendations in the (BICI) report … (the government) announced the disbursement of $2.6 million to the families of 17 deceased individuals,” the statement said, adding that the “average payout came to just under $153,000 per family.”

The payouts were ordered by King Hamad himself and were aimed at addressing “grievances … caused by recent unrest,” the statement said.

It added that other potential recipients of compensation include families of individuals who “suffered physical injury and any other cases deemed appropriate by the justice ministry.”

In a separate announcement Tuesday, the government said the kingdom’s High Criminal Court has filed murder charges against three police officers, including one lieutenant, for their role in the deaths of three people during last year’s protests.

The policemen were originally charged with manslaughter but “are now facing murder charges in the deaths of Ali Ahmed Abdulla, Isa Abdul Hassan and Hani Abdulaziz Goma in three separate incidents,” the statement said.

Manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of seven years in Bahrain, according to the statement. Murder charges carry a sentence of “life imprisonment or even the death penalty.”

If found guilty, the policemen “are likely to receive the toughest penalties allowed by law,” the statement added.

A fourth policeman was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting a protester, but remains in hospital after sustaining serious injuries in a bomb attack on police on April 24, it added.

Amnesty says 60 people have been killed since the protests erupted in February 2011 in the Shiite-majority Gulf kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.