Karim Fakhrawi, founder and board member of Al-Wasat, Bahrain’s premier independent daily newspaper, was tortured to death in state custody between April 11 and 12, 2011, according to news reports and a government commission of inquiry launched later that year.
Human rights defenders told CPJ that Fakhrawi had gone to a police station on April 5 to complain that authorities were about to bulldoze his house, and was detained at that time.
According to a report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a body formed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to investigate human rights abuses during protests in 2011, police told his family that Fakhrawi died of kidney failure in government custody. However, photographs published online showed a body identified as that of Fakhrawi with extensive cuts and bruises. CPJ could not independently verify the authenticity of the photographs.
The journalist’s arrest came amid sweeping civil unrest and protests against the government in Bahrain as part of a regional wave of anti-government protests, and a government crackdown on independent reporting. In early April, the government accused Al-Wasat of “deliberate news fabrication and falsification,” said it would file criminal charges against three of the paper’s senior editors, and deported two of its senior staffers.
In November 2011, the independent commission issued a report that included information on Fakhrawi’s case. The report identified him as Abdulkarim Ali Ahmed Fakhrawi.
Individuals whose names were not disclosed told the commission of inquiry that they had “witnessed the deceased [Fakhrawi] being tortured in custody,” and heard him screaming each time he was hit; he then stopped screaming and a witness heard an individual say “you killed him.” The report does not state where the journalist was being held, but says he was in the custody of the National Security Agency (NSA).
The report states that the NSA investigated the journalist’s death, and includes conflicting reports from guards at the scene over whether Fakhrawi had gotten into a verbal or physical altercation with guards; however, it states unequivocally that Fakhrawi died of kidney failure “following the injuries the deceased had sustained in prison.”
The independent commission wrote, “the death of Mr. Fakhrawi is attributed to torture while in the custody of the NSA.” The commission’s report stated that Fakhrawi died on April 11, 2011, but his employer and other news reports stated that he died on April 12.
The report stated that, when relatives went to collect Fakhrawi’s body, it had “clear marks of torture,” and security forces threatened the journalist’s family members that they would “end up like him” if they photographed his body.
On December 30, 2012, a Bahraini court sentenced two police officers to seven years in prison for their role in Fakhrawi’s death, according to news reports. On October 27, 2013, an appeals court reduced the officers’ sentences to three years, according to reports.
Fakhrawi was one of numerous investors in Al-Wasat, local journalists told CPJ. He was also a book publisher, the owner of one of Bahrain’s biggest bookstores, and a member of Al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s chief opposition party.
Fakhrawi’s death was the second media fatality in Bahrain in less than a week, both occurring in government detention facilities. In the two decades prior to that, no journalists had died in relation to their work in Bahrain, CPJ research shows.
CPJ reached out to the Bahraini Interior Ministry for comment via email but did not receive a response.