A court in Bahrain on Thursday sentenced four protesters to death for their roles in the killing of two police officers. Three others were sentenced to life in prison [BNA report]. The killings were committed last month during mass anti-government protests. Rights activists have expressed concern that the verdict could lead to intensified protests [Reuters report] and violence. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has condemned the trial as unfair, urging a halt to the executions [press release]. Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:
The Bahraini authorities have a responsibility to bring to justice those who commit violent crimes. But when doing so, they must uphold the right to fair trial and they must not use the death penalty under any circumstances. ... In this case, the accused were tried before a special military court, although they are civilians. It also appears that the trial was conducted behind closed doors. As well, those sentenced have no right of appeal except to another special military court, raising great fears about the fairness of the entire process.Lawyers for the defendants may appeal the verdict to the National Safety Court of Appeals.
Earlier this month, human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) [advocacy websites] criticized Bahrain for rampant human rights abuses [JURIST report] related to anti-government protests. Last month, six opposition leaders were arrested [JURIST report] after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana. Days earlier, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] declared [JURIST report] a three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] in response to growing unrest in the island nation. The state of emergency came just days after a group of 22 Bahraini lawmakers, part of an independent pro-government bloc, called on the King to impose martial law [JURIST report] under articles 36 and 123 of the Bahraini Constitution [text, PDF]. The Bahraini government's response to the ongoing protests have prompted international concern. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to violence against protesters [JURIST report] in the country, referencing attempts to quell protests sweeping across the region.