DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 15, (AP): Bahrain on Sunday carried out its first executions since an Arab Spring uprising rocked the country in 2011, putting to death three men found guilty of a deadly bomb attack on police.
The executions of the Shiite men drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and sparked outrage among opponents of the Sunni-ruled government, who see the charges as politically motivated. Activists allege that testimony used against the condemned men was obtained through torture. Bahrain’s public prosecution said the death sentences were carried out by firing squad.
Photos shared by activists purporting to show the bodies of the men showed a tight grouping of multiple gunshot wounds to the heart. The executions were the first in the US-allied nation since 2010 and followed a spike in protests in solidarity with the convicted men. Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima and Ali al-Singace were found guilty in 2015 of killing two Bahraini policemen and an Emirati officer deployed to bolster the country’s security forces in a bomb attack the previous year. A court upheld their death sentences last Monday. Bahrain is a tiny island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia that hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the waters around the Arabian Peninsula and is the naval counterweight to nearby Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Government forces crushed the 2011 uprising with help from allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the country continues to face lowlevel unrest led by a majority Shiite population that feels marginalized by the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain also maintains close ties to Britain, which is building a naval base of its own in the country. Over the past two and a half months, Prince Charles, Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have all paid visits to the island. Johnson made a point of underscoring Britain’s opposition to the death penalty hours after the sentences were carried out. “The Bahraini authorities are fully aware of our position and I have raised the issue with the Bahraini government,” he said in a statement. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets Saturday in solidarity with the condemned men as rumors spread that their executions were imminent. Images shared on social media showed activists blocking roads with burning debris and hurling petrol bombs in clashes with police.
Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher who monitors Bahrain for Human Rights Watch, called the executions inflammatory and unjust as he urged the kingdom’s allies to “publicly and unequivocally condemn these killings.” Amnesty International deputy director Samah Hadid called the executions “a deeply regressive step.” Protests and clashes continued Sunday despite a heavy presence of riot police deployed in predominantly Shiite areas.
Witnesses said shops were shuttered in Daih, where the 2014 bombing happened. Garbage bins were seen overturned and set alight in the streets. One police officer was wounded when several people shot at a police patrol in Bani Jamra, west of the capital Manama, the Interior Ministry said Sunday. It gave no further details. The Ashtar Brigade, a Shiite militant group that claimed the 2014 police attack and a number of other bombings in Bahrain, took responsibility for the attack on the police officer on social media. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the post, though it came in a forum often used by the group. Iran, which supported the 2011 uprising but denies any role in the violence, condemned the executions.
“The lack of transparency in the unfair trial of the three Bahraini citizens was confirmed by the international community, human rights and all popular bodies all around the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said in remarks carried by state-run media. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah also condemned the execution of the three men, calling it “a crime” and “extrajudicial killing” that would undermine any chance for a political solution in Bahrain.