DUBAI (Reuters) - A Bahrain emergency appeals court upheld death sentences on Sunday for two men found guilty of killing police officers during recent unrest, punishments human rights activists said were designed to prevent more protests.
Two other men who were among the four initially sentenced to death on April 28 had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, the state news agency said.
The report did not say when the two executions would be carried out, but Manama-based legal expert Mohammed Ahmed said they would first need to be approved by Bahrain’s king.
Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, faced a wave of Shi‘ite-led protests in February and March demanding democratic reform and an end to sectarian discrimination in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. Some hardliners demanded a republic.
Bahrain’s rulers imposed emergency law and called in troops from neighboring Gulf countries in March to quash the protests, which amounted to the greatest threat to the island kingdom’s Sunni rulers in Bahrain’s history.
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, questioned the ruling.
“This is a political case and it’s aimed at stopping the protests,” he said by telephone. “It’s believed that they were targeted because of their (political) activities.”
He said one of the two people sentenced to death had a full-length cast on his left leg when the killing took place.
“The man had a broken leg and was moving with crutches, how could he drive a car?” he added.
At least 29 people, all but six of them Shi‘ites, have been killed since the protests started, inspired by Arab revolts that ousted the autocratic rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.
The six non-Shi‘ites included two foreigners -- an Indian and a Bangladeshi -- and four policemen. A hospital source said in March that at least two of four Bahraini policemen killed during the protests had been run over by cars on March 16.
The death sentences were only the third in more than three decades issued against Bahraini citizens of Bahrain.
One of the prior death penalty cases came in the mid-1990s, during the greatest political unrest Bahrain had seen before this year. A protester was put to death by firing squad for killing a policeman during that time.
Hundreds of people, mainly Shi‘ites, have been arrested and dozens put on trial in Bahrain’s crackdown on those who took part in protests. Others have been fired from government jobs. A state of emergency is due to be lifted on June 1.
“There’s no household in the Shi‘ite community that doesn’t have a member arrested by the government or a member that was sacked from his job,” Rajab said.
He said his own house was attacked twice in the past few weeks. On Saturday, two tear gas grenades were thrown into his house where his mother, brother and their families live, he said. Two other grenades landed outside the house, he added.
Last week, four journalists from the kingdom’s only opposition newspaper, Al Wasat, pleaded not guilty to charges of fabricating news about the security forces’ crackdown on anti-government protests.
Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; editing by Philippa Fletcher