MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A 23-year-old Bahraini suffering from sickle-cell anemia who was detained by police as part of a security investigation has died a week after being taken to the hospital, authorities in the Gulf island kingdom said Wednesday.
The country's main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, hailed the man as a martyr and blamed the government for his death because of what it alleged was improper care while in custody.
The Ministry of Interior said the man, identified as Jaffar Mohammed Jaffar, had sickle-cell anemia and died at around 3:15 a.m. Wednesday. He had been receiving treatment at Salmaniya Medical Complex after being admitted on Feb. 19. It is unclear how — or if — his disease contributed to his death.
Opposition activists and human rights groups in the past have raised concerns about the alleged mistreatment of detainees amid a three-year uprising by a Shiite-dominated opposition seeking greater political rights from the country's Sunni rulers. Bahrain, an American ally that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, says it is committed to complying with human rights norms.
In April 2011, a supporter of Bahrain's anti-government movement, Rashid Zakaria Hassan, 40, was found dead in a detention facility. A medical examiner determined that complications from sickle-cell anemia resulted in his death.
Jaffar was one of several suspects detained in connection with an operation in December that resulted in the seizure of stocks of weapons and explosives, including some being smuggled in by sea.
The man's family alleges that their son was subjected to beatings and electric shocks, according to al-Wefaq.
A government ombudsman has opened an investigation into the death, and investigators have spoken to family members and "relevant persons" at the detention facility, according to an emailed statement in response to questions. It said results of the investigation will be made public once it is complete.
Jaffar is the second person to die in police custody this year. In late January, Fadhil Abbas Muslim, 20, died from injuries sustained when he was shot in the head while trying to flee the scene of a police investigation, according to authorities.
In a separate statement, the Interior Ministry urged Bahrainis not to take part in fighting in conflicts abroad and warned against becoming involved with religious extremist groups.
It specifically raised concerns about Bahraini citizens who have joined the fight in Syria, and said it was preparing draft legislation aimed at further deterring citizens from fighting abroad or receiving weapons training.
It follows a royal decree issued earlier this month by neighboring Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah punishing citizens who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom with prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years in jail.
Many Sunnis in the Arab Gulf back predominantly Sunni rebels against Syria's President Bashar Assad, who comes from a Shiite offshoot sect.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.