DUBAI (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the Bahraini capital Manama on Saturday over reports on social media that the authorities may be preparing to execute three Shi‘ite men convicted of a deadly 2014 bomb attack.
Executions are rare in Bahrain, a Western allied kingdom tucked between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The authorities have been cracking down on dissent mainly by the Shi‘ite majority complaining of discrimination by the island’s Sunni rulers. The last execution was carried out in 2008.
Calls for the protests were issued on social media after the families of the three young men - Abbas al-Samea, Sami Mushaima and Ali al-Singace - said they had been summoned to visit their loved ones at Jau prison.
The men, who were convicted in 2015 of a bomb attack that killed three police officers - two Bahrainis and an Emirati - had maintained their innocence and rights groups have said confessions were obtained under torture. Bahrain denies using torture.
Prison authorities did not explain the reason for the summons to the families but gave them a telephone number to collect their sons’ personal belongings, according to social media reports.
News of the possible impending executions prompted calls on social media for protests, drawing hundreds of people onto the streets. Bahraini security forces were seen deploying around areas of tension, including Duraz village, where the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shi‘ites has been confined since authorities revoked his citizenship last year.
Footage on social media showed hundreds of men and women marching with placards denouncing the death sentences imposed on the three men.
“No, No to Executions,” one poster carried by demonstrators in Duraz read, above pictures of the three men.
There were no reports of clashes between demonstrators and security forces, who were deployed in armored vehicles outside the village, according to social media.
Social media messages said similar protests took place in other Shi‘ite villages across Bahrain.
Bahrain launched a crackdown on dissidents in June last year, closing down the main Shi‘ite Muslim group, al-Wefaq. It has also more than doubled a prison sentence imposed on the head of al-Wefaq, Sheikh Ali Salman, revoked the citizenship of the Shi‘ite majority’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, and arrested prominent activist Nabeel Rajab.
Bahrain denies any discrimination against Shi‘ites and accuses Iran of fanning unrest in the kingdom, a charge Tehran says is not true.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Bolton