Bahrain on Sunday executed three Shia 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 in the region and beyond.
Activists in Bahrain reacted with rage to the move, calling it a “black day” for the Gulf Arab kingdom’ and posting images of protesters clashing with police on social media.
The executions came 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, a sharp critic of Bahrain’s Sunni-led government, called the executions “reckless”.
“Bahrain’s government has demonstrated that it does not seek a peaceful resolution and a way out out of the crisis,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, quoted by the official news agency IRNA.
The three put to death Sunday were the first who had held Bahraini citizenship executed since 1996, according to Reprieve, though they were technically stateless at the time of their deaths after being stripped of their citizenship when convicted.
It was Bahrain’s first executions since an Arab Spring uprising rocked the country in 2011. Bahrain’s last execution was of a Bangladeshi man in 2010.
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 Shia population have for decades accused their Sunni rulers of discrimination in matters of jobs, housing and political say.
Bahrain says Shia neighbour Iran is supporting violence in the kingdom in a bid to widen its influence, a charge Tehran denies.
State news agency BNA said the men were shot and killed in the presence of a judge, doctor and a Muslim cleric.
Images posted by Bahraini activists on social media after the news showed demonstrators blocking roads with burning tires and throwing rocks at police who responded with tear gas in several Shia villages.
Mass “Arab Spring” demonstrations in 2011 that were led by Shias were crushed by the authorities with help from its Gulf Arab neighbours, deepening sectarian rivalry in the region.
Authorities last year escalated a crackdown on its Shia 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.
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 … This act is a security threat to Bahrain and the entire region,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.