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Bahrain death sentence

April 29, 2011

The German government says the death sentence imposed by Bahrain on four Shiite men found guilty of killing two policemen at a protest in March is "draconian." Berlin has urged a stay of execution.

Demonstrators in Manama
Numerous pro-democracy protesters have been arrested in BahrainImage: dapd

Germany has called for a stay of execution for four Shiite protestors – all aged 20 or 21 - who were sentenced to death by a Bahraini military court on Thursday for killing two policemen at a rally last month. The policemen were killed during a pro-democracy protest attended by hundreds of thousands of Shiites. Three other protestors were given life sentences.

"Our government hopes that the death sentences will not be carried out and that the judgment will be revised," said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke. "This draconian punishment impedes the process of rapprochement und reconciliation in Bahrain.”

This is only the third time in over 30 years that the death penalty has been imposed on Bahraini citizens. The authorities said the four can appeal their sentences.

Doubts about fairness of trial

Amnesty International has expressed concerns about the fairness of the trial. The human rights agency noted that the accused were tried by a military court behind closed doors and can only appeal to a military court.

Bahrain hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet. The US issued a rare rebuke to its ally following news of the death sentences.

Smoke and fire in Pearl Square
Pearl Square has been a focal point of the protestsImage: AP

"Security measures will not resolve the challenges faced by Bahrain," said State Department spokeswoman Heide Bronke-Fulton in a statement. "We are also extremely troubled by reports of ongoing human rights abuses and violations of medical neutrality in Bahrain. These actions only exacerbate frictions in Bahraini society.”

Shiites began holding demonstrations in mid-February. Bahrain's military imposed emergency rule on March 15. One day later, security forces were ordered to crush the protests. Since then, 29 people have been killed. With the exception of the four policemen and two foreigners, all were Shiites.

Many Shiites say they face systematic discrimination in the Muslim island kingdom. Some Shiite groups have called for the monarchy to be abolished. Bahrain's Sunni leaders in turn accuse Shiite Iran of trying to increase its influence.

Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Susan Houlton