Female journalist, 28, is shot dead in front of her six-year-old son ‘by a member of Bahrain’s royal family serving in the military’
- Eman Salehi worked as a sports journalist for Bahrain’s state-run TV broadcaster
- The 28-year-old Shiite woman was known for her piercing blue eyes
- She was shot dead on December 23 in the city of Riffa, in Bahrain
- A man immediately turned himself into authorities and is in custody
- Activists allege killer is member of Bahrain’s royal family serving in the military
- Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited Bahrain in November
- British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly over the past five years
- A new British Navy base is under construction in the country
Eman Salehi, 28, was shot dead in the Bahraini city of Riffa. Activists have shared this photo of her online.
A young mother has been gunned down in the street as her six-year-old son watched from inside their car in Bahrain.
Eman Salehi, a 28-year-old Shiite woman, worked as a sports journalist for Bahrain’s state-run television broadcaster.
She was known for her piercing blue eyes and friendly demeanor. It’s unclear what sparked the December 23 shooting.
That night, her car was stopped in the Bahraini city of Riffa, a community popular with members of the ruling Al Khalifa family and the military.
A man shot Salehi once in the head, then immediately turned himself into authorities.
The murder shocked the small island and has sparked controversy over who carried out the killing.
Activists abroad allege a member of Bahrain’s Sunni royal family serving in the military pulled the trigger.
Bahrain’s monarchy has a long love of Britain’s own royal family and in November Prince Charles and his wife Camilla visited the country, which is repeatedly accused of human rights abuses.
The prince’s Clarence House issued a statement at the time saying ‘their royal highnesses are aware of the points raised by human rights organizations and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are providing background briefings and information.’
A report by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) organisation this year revealed British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly over the past five years.
Between February 2011 and September 2015, the UK has done deals with Bahrain worth £45 million, covering arms such as machine guns, assault rifles and anti-armour ammunition, the organisation said.
The total for the three years prior to the country’s 2011 Arab Spring protests was just £6 million.
The accusation that a member of Bahrain’s Sunni royal family serving in the military is Ms Salehi’s killer goes to the heart of lingering unrest on the island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, now five years on from its protests and in the grips of a renewed government crackdown on dissent.
‘If you say it involves the military, it involves the king,’ said Said Yousif Almuhafdah of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. ‘No one wants to mention that.’
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry issued only a terse statement on Twitter saying there had been a ‘murder of a female.’
WHY IS THERE UNREST IN BAHRAIN?
Arab Spring protests began in Bahrain in February 2011 and were backed by the Shiite majority and others.
They were aimed at demanding more political freedoms from the ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family.
The government put down the demonstrations with help from Saudi and Emirati troops, and later pledged to reform.
While low-level unrest persisted for years, things remained largely peaceful until April this year, when Bahrain’s military announced it was ‘ready to deal firmly and with determination with these sedition groups and their heads’ after a gasoline bomb killed a police officer.
Since then, authorities suspended the country’s largest Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, and doubled a prison sentence for its secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. Famed activist Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned and now awaits sentencing on a charge of spreading ‘false news.’ Zainab al-Khawaja, the daughter of well-known activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who himself is serving a life sentence over his role in the 2011 protests, was forced into exile.
A standoff in the small town of Diraz, just a few miles from where Prince Charles met with Bahrain’s royals, began in June when supporters of Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim surrounded his home after the government revoked his citizenship.
Police now control entry to the town and film incoming local drivers, while Western expatriates blissfully jog past armored personnel carriers. Graffiti on nearby side streets demands ‘death’ for King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, while others show crude drawings of Pearl Square, the epicenter of the 2011 protests, which was later demolished by the government. Internet access cuts off nightly here, an outage researchers blame on government interference.
Bahrain has blamed its unrest partly on Shiite power Iran, though a government-sponsored investigation said there wasn’t a ‘discernable link’ between the 2011 demonstrations and Tehran based on the information the government gave them.
An activist who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the West remain silent ‘because of the supply of the facilities,’, referring to the British and American naval bases. ‘They are compromising other things for this.’
In a statement to the AP, Bahrain’s government said ‘no individual in Bahrain will, or can be, prosecuted for his or her political views due to the freedom of expression protections explicitly stated in the constitution,’ despite the cases to the contrary.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency identified Salehi’s killer as a ’34-year-old Bahraini man’ who ‘was referred to the relevant judicial party to continue the necessary legal procedures.’
The Gulf Daily News, a pro-government English-language newspaper, went a step further, describing Salehi’s assailant as an officer in the Bahraini Defense Force.
Activists abroad, including Almuhafdah and those affiliated with Bahrain Watch, identified the shooter as being a member of the Al Khalifa family, relying on information from locals on the ground.
The man named by activists could not be reached by The Associated Press.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Information Affairs declined to comment on the case Tuesday.
When approached for comment, the Bahrain Embassy in London referred MailOnline to a statement from Brig. Gen. Yussef Rashid Flaifel, the head of the country’s military courts, saying the armed forces were investigating the crime while the man accused remained in custody.
‘The Military Prosecution launched the investigation as soon as it was notified of the incident,’ the statement said.
‘The Chief of the Military Judiciary said the Military Prosecution questioned the suspect in the presence of his lawyer and listened to the eyewitnesses’ testimonies. Subsequently, it ordered the suspect be remanded in custody pending further investigations.
‘The victim’s family were notified on the day of the incident about all legal procedures to be taken in relation to the case and told that they would be officially summoned by the Military Prosecution at a later stage,’ the statement continued.
‘The Chief of the Military Judiciary emphasized that the Military Judiciary at Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) is an independent judicial party and that investigation is being conducted transparently, impartially and according to Bahrain’s laws.
‘The case will be referred to the specialized Military Court after the investigation is completed.’
In the meantime, Bahrain’s state television channel has said that naming the accused in the case would be illegal, suggesting activists’ comments have struck a nerve.
‘The fact that the alleged perpetrator was a military officer and member of the ruling family has set this crime apart from others, testing the country’s commitment to justice and accountability,’ said Faten Bushehri, an activist with Bahrain Watch.
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.
The multi-million-pound Royal Navy facility will house up to 600 UK military personnel.
HMS Juffair will become the staging-post for Britain in the Middle East and is designed to assert influence over the Gulf.
It is Britain’s first new permanent military base in the Middle East since 1971.
Bahrain has paid most of the £30 million-plus cost, with the UK contributing around £7.5 million.
Independent news gathering has grown more difficult since the government began a crackdown on dissent in April that’s seen activists exiled, its main Shiite opposition group dismantled and others imprisoned.
Activists fear that the investigation into Salehi’s death will be buried, as military tribunals are conducted behind closed doors.
Almuhafdah of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights pointed to soldiers shooting Abdulredha Buhamaid to death during the 2011 protests. The military later said its personnel acted within the law and denied they killed Buhamaid.
‘For us, it’s almost impossible,’ he said. ‘It’s very difficult to get information.’