A Bahrain police officer was sentenced to seven years in prison after fatally shooting a protester, state media reported, the latest verdict tied to the turmoil in the Persian Gulf nation.
The victim, Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, was the first person to lose his life as unrest erupted in the island nation nearly two years ago. Chief Prosecutor Nawaf Abdullah Hamza told the official Bahrain News Agency that the defendant “fired bullets from his rifle at the victim,” causing the injuries that killed him.
The shooting occurred on the first day of antigovernment protests in Bahrain. Though Hamza said the unnamed officer was dealing with riots, a state-commissioned independent report found there were no disturbances reported in the area at the time Mushaima was shot.
“The fact that [Mushaima] was shot in the back at close range indicates that there was no justification for the use of lethal force,” the commission wrote in its report. It listed Mushaima as one of 35 people who died in connection with the unrest over the course of two months.
Bahrain pledged to hold officers accountable for abuses after the release of that report, which described torture and beatings during a government crackdown on demonstrators.
The government says it had investigated abuse allegations, retrained police and undertaken other reforms. Several cases have now gone to court: In December, two other police officers were sentenced to seven years in prison for beating an opposition member to death.
Dissidents and human rights groups have been unimpressed, however, complaining that police are shown leniency but peaceful protesters face lengthy sentences. Last month, a Bahraini court upheld life sentences for eight people among a group of dissidents jailed for plotting to overthrow the state, charges condemned by rights groups as punishing free speech.
The Bahrain News Agency reported Thursday that the officer who shot Mushaima was charged with “beating leading to death,” the same charge made against the two officers sentenced in December, according to the opposition party Wefaq.
Maryam Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, called the charge “absurd” and the sentence “not adequate at all.”
“This is not someone who was beaten to death. He was shot in the back,” Khawaja said in a phone interview Friday. The larger problem is that “none of the higher officials in Bahrain have been held accountable,” she said.
Opposition protesters say they want greater democracy and a stronger voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni Muslim monarchy, as well as a halt to continued abuses. More than two dozen people died of injuries related to protests and excessive use of tear gas last year, opposition groups told Human Rights Watch, which lamented in a statement Thursday about an "escalating campaign to silence human rights defenders."
The government, which has contested many of the claims made by opposition activists and rights groups, recently called for talks to quell the crisis, saying it would act as a moderator. Wefaq insisted Thursday that the ruling family must be part of that dialogue, not merely a supervisor, or the talks will be “no more than a media propaganda.”