Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri, a Bahraini journalist who moderated and wrote for a local news website in his home village of Al-Dair, died after being tortured in a government detention center on April 9, 2011, according to news reports and a government commission of inquiry launched later that year.
Security forces arrested al-Ashiri on April 2 and charged him with disseminating false news and inciting hatred, according to the BBC. The website that al-Ashiri moderated, Al-Dair, named after the journalist’s home village, was inaccessible inside Bahrain following his arrest, local journalists said, but CPJ reviewed its content and found no basis for the government’s allegations.
The 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.
Authorities claimed al-Ashiri died from complications of sickle-cell anemia, but the journalist’s family told reporters that he did not suffer from that illness or any other ailment, news reports said.
In November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a body formed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to investigate human rights abuses during protests that year, issued a report that included information on al-Ashiri’s case.
The report stated that security forces broke into al-Ashiri’s home during his arrest on April 2, and then held him at the General Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Forensic Evidence, where he was “subjected to torture” from April 6 to 9. The report does not specify how the journalist was tortured or who was responsible for his mistreatment.
Al-Ashiri was transferred to the Dry Dock Detention Center on April 9, where he died later that day after being beaten, according to the report.
A witness who was held in the same cell as al-Ashiri told the commission of inquiry that all detainees were handcuffed and blindfolded, and forced to lie on their stomachs. Al-Ashiri experienced confusion or hallucinations and shouted to the facility’s guards, who told him to be quiet and then entered the cell and beat him; after the beating, the witness heard an individual say “he is dead,” according to the report.
The report states that al-Ashiri “died from torture in Room Number 1” of the Dry Dock Detention Center, and that he “was in the custody of the MoI [Ministry of Interior] at the time of his death.”
Al-Ashiri’s relatives learned about his death from the Interior Ministry’s website on April 11, according to the report, and when they contacted the ministry they were told he died in his sleep from sickle cell anemia.
According to the now-shuttered independent Bahraini newspaper Al-Wasat, a court tried five policemen for their role in al-Ashiri’s death, but acquitted all five on March 12, 2013.
Al-Ashiri was the first Bahraini journalist to die in direct relation to his work since CPJ started compiling detailed death records in 1992.
CPJ reached out to the Bahraini Interior Ministry for comment via email but did not immediately receive a response.