DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain will pay $2.6 million in restitution to 17 families over the deaths of 17 relatives last year during an uprising suppressed by the Gulf Arab state, a government statement said.
Separately, a high court toughened charges against three policemen, ruling they would be tried for murder - exposing them to a possible death sentence - rather than manslaughter for killing three protesters.
Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has been under pressure to implement recommendations for police, judicial, media and education reform made by an investigative commission of international legal experts.
But the country remains in turmoil as opposition groups led by the Shi‘ite Muslim majority continue protests for democratic reforms and against what they say is discrimination.
“Disbursement of compensation to the families of 17 deceased persons has begun in keeping with the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI),” said the statement, citing a justice ministry official.
It said the payments amounted to $153,000 per person, but did not say who the recipients were or give further detail.
The BICI reported in November that 35 people died during the unrest, which erupted in February 2011 after revolts overthrew dictators in Egypt and Tunisia.
The dead were mainly protesters but included five security personnel and seven foreigners. The report said five people died due to torture.
The High Criminal Court ruled that the three policemen accused of killing three protesters in March 2011 should face trial for murder - a change that could expose them to the death penalty, the information ministry (IAA) said in a statement.
A fourth policeman was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for assault in the wounding of a protester with birdshot, it said. The officer was hospitalized with severe injuries suffered in a bomb attack two months ago, the IAA said.
Bahrain’s government, long led by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family, has given parliament more rights of scrutiny over ministries and budgets but rejected opposition demands for full legislative powers and elected government.
Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Mark Heinrich