Bahrain accuses mainly Shi’ite Iran of stoking militancy in the kingdom, which Tehran denies. Bahrain, a strategic island where the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, has a Shi’ite Muslim majority population but is ruled by a Sunni royal family.
Bahrain executed three men on Saturday over allegations of two separate murders, the public prosecutor said in a statement from the capital city.
According to the prosecutor, one of the cases involved the killing of a Bahraini police officer and the other the killing of a local imam.
Rights groups identified two of the men as Shi’ite activists Ali al-Arab and Ahmed al-Malali, who were sentenced to death last year in a mass trial along with another 56 men convicted and given jail terms on “terrorism crimes”.
Alleging they were part of a terrorist cell trained to use heavy weapons and explosives, the court jailed 19 for life and 37 for terms of up to 15 years.
The prosecutor’s statement, which did not identify any of the men, said two of them were convicted for crimes including using an assault rifle to kill a police officer in 2017, in attacks orchestrated by what it called Iran-based ringleaders.
International rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a U.N. human rights expert had urged Bahrain on Friday to halt the execution of the two activists on the basis of confessions allegedly obtained through torture.
“While in custody the men were tortured by security officers including through electric shocks and beatings. Ali Mohamed al-Arab’s toenails were also ripped out,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
The authorities have denied accusations of torture and repressing the opposition, and say they are protecting national security from terrorists.
Mass trials became commonplace in Bahrain following a failed uprising in 2011 that was led by members of the Shi’ite opposition and scores of people have been imprisoned including politicians and human rights activists. Many others have fled abroad.
The third executed man was convicted of killing an imam in 2018.
A London-based Bahraini activist rights group, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said “the executions mark one of Bahrain’s darkest days”.
“It appears that the Bahraini government planned this meticulously, timing the executions to coincide with U.S., EU and UK legislative recesses in order to avoid international scrutiny,” BIRD’s Director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei said in a statement sent to Reuters.