Andrew England, Middle East Editor JULY 27, 2019
Bahrain executed two men by firing squad on Saturday who were convicted of terrorism-related charges in a mass trial that was condemned by human rights groups. The men were accused of being part of a group that smuggled weapons, assisted a prison escape and assassinated a police officer, according to Bahrain’s state news agency. Activists named the two men as Ali al-Arab, 25, and Ahmed al-Malali, 24. Human rights groups alleged the pair, who were arrested in February in 2017 and were convicted in the mass trial a year later, were tortured and forced to confess after being beaten and given electric shocks. “These executions mark one of Bahrain’s darkest days,” said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, a London-based rights group. Agnes Callamard, the UN’s Special Rapporteur, on Friday called on Bahrain to halt the executions and “annul the death sentences against them and ensure they are retried in accordance with international law and standards”. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said that if Bahrain went ahead with the executions “it would be an utterly shameful show of contempt for human rights”. Bahraini authorities have been accused of widespread abuses during a series of crackdowns against Shia activists since they crushed a popular uprising in 2011 with the backing of neighbouring Saudi Arabia. More than 3,000 people have been jailed, the main opposition movement, al-Wefaq, has been dissolved and its leader locked up. Hundreds of people have fled into exile or been stripped of their nationalities, activists say. The small island kingdom, which hosts US and UK military bases, is unique in the Gulf as it has a Shia majority ruled by a Sunni monarchy. The authorities accuse Shia activists of seeking to overthrow the ruling family and blame Iran for stoking unrest and smuggling arms to militants who have attacked security forces. In April, a court found 139 people guilty on terrorism-related charges and stripped all but one of them of their nationality in a trial related to the formation of Bahraini Hizbollah, named after the Iran-allied Lebanese militant movement. But Bahrain’s Shia opposition has always insisted it wants peaceful democratic reforms and denies claims that it is doing Iran’s bidding. Cycles of unrest have often blighted the kingdom as the Shia community has long complained of institutionalised discrimination. But the ruling al-Khalifa family faced the biggest threat to its rule when several hundred thousand people took to the streets in the capital Manama in 2011, as pro-democracy protests swept across the Arab world. Sporadic demonstrations continued but have diminished in recent years as thousands of people have been detained and the authorities have tightened their crackdown on any form of dissent. Activists say the election of US president Donald Trump has emboldened the Gulf’s monarchies as his administration has embraced the region’s autocratic leaders and adopted a “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran in a bid to counter the Islamic republic’s influence in the region. Bahrain, which is trying to re-establish itself as a regional finance hub, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and received a $10bn bailout from the governments of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait last year to ward off a debt crisis. The authorities executed a third man on Saturday in a separate case related to the killing of a cleric, the state news agency said.