A military court in Sunni-ruled Bahrain sentenced four Shiite Muslim protesters to death for killing two policemen during demonstrations last month. Three other activists were sentenced to life in prison for their role in the policemen’s deaths. But human rights activists have argued that the verdicts were the result of a number of legal abuses, including the arrest of one of the defendants’ lawyers during the trial, the fact that the suspects weren’t able to meet with their families, and the closed nature of the military trial. Despite the fact that the media were barred from the courtroom itself, the suspects’ “confessions” (for some reason, Bahrainis on Twitter keep using scare quotes around that) were aired on national TV. The 24-minute segment, which includes a voice-over and dramatic score, plays like a Dateline reenactment.
Inconsistencies in the TV Segment
As an activist tweeting under the name Albahraini pointed out, the state TV segment features a confession from Ali Sager, who died in police custody earlier this month after being arrested for tweeting protest photos that police allege were fabricated. The state TV segment also features security-camera footage of the body of one of the dead policemen, who was allegedly killed by being run over by the suspects in a parking lot. The narrator refutes rumors that it was actually a dummy. But Albahraini points out other inconsistencies, such as the fact that the body looks slim in one instance and fat in the next and discrepancies between what is described in the confession and what the footage shows.
Inconsistencies With Bahrain’s Own Death-Penalty Policy
Jane Kinninmont, a senior Middle East research fellow for the Chatham House think tank, points out that, according to Amnesty International reports from 2008, the use of the death penalty in Bahrain is rare, tweeting, “Amnesty reported it was disproportionately used against expats.” Kinninmont also tweeted the following:
Bahrain death sentences passed by military court will only deepen divisions as credibility of military trial process is already in doubt.
Under King Hamad the death penalty has been used slightly more often; I know of 4 executions. All were of Asian foreign workers. #Bahrain
If the Bahraini government intended the sentences to suppress protests, it might end up backfiring. According to the New York Times, human rights activists say the verdicts could generate a new wave of protests.
You can watch the full 24-minute segment here. This clip shows state TV characterization and justification of the sentencing: