A female journalist shot dead in Bahrain in front of her young son was allegedly murdered by a member of the Gulf State’s royal family, according to activists.
The killing of 28-year-old Eman Salehi, a Shia woman, shocked the island kingdom but new allegations threaten to elevate the case into realm of politics and potentially spark fresh protests against the Sunni monarchy.
Ms Salehi was shot in the street on December 23 as her six-year-old son watched through the window of the car.
Her killer shot Ms Salehi, a popular sports journalist, once in the head and immediately turned himself into police in the city of Riffa, which is popular with both military officers and members of the royal family.
The interior ministry would say only that there had been a murder of a female but the state run news agency identified the suspect as a 34-year-old Bahraini man and said he had been referred to the relevant judicial party to continue the necessary legal procedures.
It emerged later that the man was being investigated by military authorities, apparently confirming rumours that he was a member of the armed forces.
But activists with Bahrain Watch, an activist group based outside the country, said that the alleged killer was also a royal.
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, Faten Bushehri, an activist with the group told AP.
Bahrain is ruled by the al-Khalifa family and headed by Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has been the emir since 1999.
Like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, there are dozens of minor princes in the family who enjoy wealth and privilege but do not have formal roles in the country’s government.
The Prince of Wales and the Dutchess of Cornwall visited Bahrain last month and were hosted by the royal family.
Bahrain’s government brutally suppressed an uprising in 2011 by demonstrators calling for political equality for the country’s Shia majority and later for the end of the monarchy itself.
The kingdom’s security forces, supported by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crushed the Arab Spring uprising and allegedly tortured and imprisoned hundreds of activists.
Ms Salehi’s death will cast a new spotlight on the government’s treatment of Shias and on the country’s justice system.
Military tribunals are usually held in secret and so it is unlikely that the public will be able to closely follow developments in the case.