A female journalist who was shot dead in front of her six-year-old son in Bahrain was murdered by a member of the Gulf State's royal family, activists have claimed.

Eman Salehi, a sports journalist and a member of the majority Shia sect, was shot dead on 23 December. The 28-year-old worked for Bahrain's state-run TV channel and was killed in the Bahraini city of Riffa after her car was stopped in the road. It is feared her killing could spark fresh protests against the ruling Sunni monarchy in the oil-rich emirate.

According to the Associated Press (AP) a man shot the journalist once in the head before immediately turning himself into authorities. It has been reported that her child watched his mother's killing through the window of the car they were travelling in.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry issued a statement via Twitter saying there had been a "murder of a female" on the night in question.

Confirming the killing, state-run Bahrain News Agency said 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, said the suspect, an officer in the Bahraini Defence Force, has been remanded in custody.

It has been reported that the armed forces are investigating and Yousif Almuhafdah, vice president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said the gunman was a member of the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Faten Bushehri, an activist with Bahrain Watch said to the AP: "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."

The gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which borders Saudi Arabia, is ruled by the al-Khalifa family and headed by Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has been the emir since 1999. The kingdom survived an uprising in 2011 by demonstrators who demanded political equality for Shi'ites under the ruling Sunni monarchy.

Bahrain shooting
It is feared the killing of 28-year-old Shiite woman Eman Salehi could cause widespread protests REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed