Bahrain’s government said Sunday it had executed by firing squad three Shiite men convicted in connection with a fatal attack on police officers, despite allegations by human rights groups that the trial was unfair and that evidence against the men had been obtained using torture.
The executions were the first in Bahrain since the beginning of a pro-democracy movement in 2011 that unleashed years of unrest, violence and government repression and laid bare the disenfranchisement of the Shiite majority and its complaints of apartheidlike discrimination at the hands of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers.
There were fears Sunday that the executions of the men — who were associated with Bahrain’s antigovernment opposition and had asserted their innocence, according to rights advocates — could prompt a new round of turmoil. Protests were reported in Shiite neighborhoods near Manama, Bahrain’s capital.
The decision to carry out the sentences, despite the concerns about the trial, highlighted the gradual erosion of Western pressure on Bahrain’s government since the 2011 uprising, when the country’s rulers faced international condemnation, including from the United States, for heavy-handed tactics against the protesters. The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.
After the uprising, Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, commissioned a much-lauded report by an independent commission that investigated the unrest, and he publicly promised to carry out reforms. Since then, though, Bahrain, once a relative beacon of civic life in the Persian Gulf, has become one of the region’s most closed societies, with opposition political parties shuttered, dissidents routinely arrested or forced into exile and foreign journalists all but barred from visiting the country.
Reprieve, an international human rights group, said the executions were the first to take place in Bahrain since 2010 and the first of Bahraini citizens since 1996.
“Bahrain executions unjust and inflammatory,” Nicholas McGeehan, a Persian Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Public, unequivocal condemnation imperative to prevent Bahrain killing more young men.”
As politics have been eclipsed, Bahrain’s government has faced a rising tide of violence, including deadly attacks against the security forces.
On Sunday, Bahrain’s state news agency released a lengthy statement, describing a wide-ranging plot against the officers as well as the court deliberations that had preceded the executions. It said the men — identified by rights groups as Ali al-Singace, 21, Abbas al-Samea, 27, and Sami Mushaima, 42 — had planted an explosive device in March 2014, then “lured the policemen and detonated it,” killing three and wounding 13 others.
A separate government statement characterized the evidence against the men as “compelling” and said it included witness accounts and “telecommunications devices” found on the men, as well as the confessions.
A report on the case by Amnesty International, citing statements by some of the men, said they had no access to families or lawyers during their initial, three-week-long interrogations.
Mushaima and Samea “later told their families they were given electric shocks, beaten, burnt with cigarettes, deprived of sleep, and sexually assaulted,” the report said.