DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain should investigate the death in police custody of three Shi'ites, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, saying one of the bodies bore signs of physical abuse.
Bahrain has launched a security crackdown after its police forces quelled weeks of pro-democracy protests led mainly by its disgruntled Shi'ite majority last month.
The opposition says hundreds have been arrested and four have died in police custody over the past 10 days.
"It's outrageous and cruel that people are taken off to detention and the families hear nothing until the body shows up with signs of abuse," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for the New York-based group.
"The authorities need to explain why this is happening, put a stop to it, and hold anyone responsible to account."
HRW said it had seen the body of Ali Saqer, one of the men who died in police custody, and that it bore signs of severe physical abuse.
Bahrain has accused human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, of doctoring pictures of the corpse.
"We viewed Ali Saqer's body just prior to his burial and its condition was exactly as shown in the photo that Nabeel Rajab circulated," Stork said.
Ali Saqer was charged with attempting to run over a policeman with his car last month.
Four policemen died during the unrest, including at least two run over by the cars of Shi'ite protesters. At least 13 protesters died.
The government denies there is torture in Bahrain and government officials say all such accusations will be investigated. It has released 86 people who were arrested during the crackdown.
The protests prompted the government to declare martial law in March and bring troops from Sunni Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who fear the regional influence of Shi'ite power Iran.
Bahrain's crackdown on Shi'ite dissent has raised tensions in the world's top oil-exporting region, drawing criticism from Iraq, Iran and Shi'ite movement Hezbullah.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)