DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain on Sunday executed three Shi‘ite Muslim men convicted of killing three policemen in a 2014 bomb attack, the first such executions in over two decades, drawing condemnation from foreign officials including Shi‘ite power Iran.
Activists in the Sunni-ruled, Western-allied kingdom reacted with rage, calling it a “black day” and posting images of protesters clashing with police on social media. Reuters was unable to verify the protests.The move is likely to further poison ties between Bahrain, its ally Saudi Arabia and Iran, which Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest, including by supplying arms to Shi‘ite militants who carried out several bomb attacks on security forces.
Iran, a sharp critic of Bahrain’s government, denies links to Bahrain’s opposition. It does, however, champion their cause.
The executions happened less than a week after the country’s highest court confirmed the punishment against Abbas al-Samea, 27, Sami Mushaima, 42, and Ali al-Singace, 21, found guilty of killing one Emirati and two Bahraini police officers.
Iran called the punishments “reckless”.
“Bahrain’s government has demonstrated that it does not seek a peaceful resolution and a way out of the crisis,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, quoted by the official news agency IRNA.
Such executions are rare in the small Gulf island. The last similar case involving a Shi‘ite Bahraini occurred in 1996.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement that Britain opposes the death penalty and he “raised the issue with the Bahraini Government.”
Bahrain’s majority Shi‘ite population has for decades accused their rulers of discrimination in matters of jobs, housing and political say.
State news agency BNA said the men were shot and killed in the presence of a judge, doctor and a Muslim cleric.
Social media postings by activists showed demonstrators blocking roads with burning tires and throwing rocks at police who responded with tear gas in several Shi‘ite villages.
The postings said at least one person was hurt by birdshot, according to a Twitter posting which included a photo of a young man bleeding from an eyebrow.
An opposition group, the Duraz Youth Movement, urged civil disobedience and a work stoppage to protest the executions.
Mass “Arab Spring” demonstrations in 2011 that were led by Shi‘ites were crushed by the authorities with help from its Gulf Arab neighbors, deepening sectarian rivalry in the region.
Authorities last year escalated a crackdown on its Shi‘ite critics by imprisoning a top rights campaigner, shuttering the main opposition block and revoking the community’s spiritual leader of his citizenship.
It has drawn criticism throughout from the international community, including from governments and rights groups who accuse it of being too heavy handed.
Amnesty International said the executions were carried out “after an unfair trial and despite claims from the men that they were tortured in custody”. Bahrain denies practizing torture.
Activists warned the move would undermine security.
“This is a black day in Bahrain’s history. It is the most heinous crime committed by the government of Bahrain and a shame upon its rulers,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
Reporting by Noah Browning, Katie Paul and Omar al-Fahmy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky