Bahrain: journalist’s ten-year jail term upheld, two arrested without warrant
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores an appeal court’s decision to uphold freelance press photographer Sayed Ahmed Al Mousawi’s ten-year jail sentence and the arrests of two bloggers in the past ten days without any warrant or official explanation.
The sentences of Mousawi and 11 co-defendants were confirmed on 13 June. The winner of more than 100 international awards, Mousawi was arrested in February 2014 and was convicted in November 2015 of “distributing SIM cards” to persons supposedly implicated in terrorist actions. His crime was photographing anti-government demonstrations.
Ali Al Maaraj, a blogger who was released from prison on 5 April, was arrested again without a warrant at Manama airport on 5 June, while Nabeel Rajab, a blogger who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested without a warrant at his home on 13 June.
“We condemn the judicial harassment of journalists and bloggers and the unjust prosecutions and sentences to which they are subjected just because they criticize the government,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“It is outrageous and unacceptable to accuse a journalist of terrorism just because he took photos in order to cover a demonstration. We call on the authorities to explain the grounds for the latest arrests and to release all those who are being held just for doing their jobs as journalists.”
Maaraj, who is well known for criticizing the regime, spent 27 months in prison before being released on 5 April. He was convicted in April 2014 of insulting the king and “abusing information technology.” He had been about to travel to Dubai when arrested on 5 June.
The authorities have not as yet said anything about the grounds for his latest arrest and little information has been forthcoming from other sources.
Rajab, a very prominent human rights activist, was arrested by members of the Cyber-Crime Unit after they searched his home and confiscated electronic devices, his family said.
Arrested many times in the past and last released less than a year ago (in a July 2015), Rajab was subject to an international travel ban at the time of his latest arrest. He has been placed in detention for an initial period of seven days pending the outcome of an investigation. According to the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, he is charged with publishing and spreading false information that defames the state. He is currently maintained in solitary confinement.
The authorities have been cracking down harder on journalists and other information providers of late. The Culture and Antiquities Agency forcibly disbanded the Bahrain Photographic Society on 25 April on the grounds that its members were involved in activities “contrary to the law and public order.”
The Kingdom of Bahrain is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.