In the past few days, the authorities have arrested more photographers and photo-journalists who had been covering the pro-democracy demonstrations taking place in Bahrain since mid-February. The aim of these targeted arrests is to limit the dissemination of news reports, photos and video of the protests and the government crackdown.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of these photographers and of all the other people who have been arrested for circulating information about the protests and repression. The press freedom organization also calls on the courts to overturn the conviction of Hassan Salman Al-Ma’atooq, a photographer who has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that a military court imposed the sentence on Ma’atooq on 12 May after convicting him on four charges including two relating to his work as a photographer – fabricating photos of injured people and disseminating false photos and information. Aged 29, he has been held since 23 March.
Reporters Without Borders has also learned that Mohamed Ali Al-Aradi, who works for the newspaper Al-Bilad, was arrested on 8 May, and that, Abdullah Hassan, who was recently fired from the newspaper Al-Watan, was arrested on 14 May. He had been injured on 13 March while covering clashes between demonstrators and the security forces. Mohamed Salman Al-Sheikh, a photographer who heads the Bahrain Society of Photography, is meanwhile still being held. He was arrested at his home in Sanabis, a village west of Manama, on 11 May. Photographer Nedhal Nooh, a member of the Bahrain Society of Photography, was summoned for interrogation on 18 May in West Riffa (a city to the south of the capital). He has been held ever since.
Fadel Habib, a columnist who writes mainly about educational issues for Al-Wasat, was arrested at a check-point on 20 May and was released last night. Naziha Saeed, a journalist who works for Radio Monte-Carlo and France24, was summoned and interrogated for nearly 12 hours on 22 May. She has often talked about the government-orchestrated repression in the foreign media in recent months.
The photo-journalist Mazen Mahdi was summoned and questioned for two hours on 22 May, mainly about his Twitter activities during demonstrations, his work for DPA and his alleged links with Lebanese and Iranian media. He was handcuffed and blindfolded, beaten several times and threatened with torture. Mahdi was previously detained briefly in March for taking photos of thugs smashing shop windows.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that Ali Abdulkarim Al-Kufi, a member of the Bahrain Society of Photography, and Hassan Al-Nasheet were released on 20 May after being held for five days. Al-Wasat journalist Haydar Mohamed was released on 22 May.
The trial of three of the opposition newspaper Al-Wasat’s most senior journalists – editor Mansour Al-Jamari, managing editor Walid Nouihid and local news editor Aqil Mirza – began before a criminal court on 18 May. They are accused of disseminating false information that undermined the country’s international image and reputation (http://en.rsf.org/bahraini-and-syrian-authorities-04-04-2011,39946.html). Jamari told Reuters that the prosecutors have added the charge of intending to cause instability in Bahrain, which carries a two-year sentence. They pleaded not guilty.
Jamari acknowledged to Reuters that six articles with false information did appear in Al-Wasat but he said all six were emailed to the newspaper together with bogus phone numbers from the same IP address in what appeared to be a deliberate plot to get the newspaper to publish wrong information.
Founded in 2002, Al-Wasat was banned on 3 April, one day after the national television programme “Media Watch” accused it of trying to harm Bahrain’s stability and security. The Information Affairs Authority, a government agency that regulates the media, reversed this decision and gave Al-Wasat permission to resume publishing on 4 April under new editors. The newspaper’s board initially announced that the newspaper would close, but subsequently said it would continue operating.
Another hearing that was held on 22 May in the trial of 21 human rights activists and opposition members. After witnesses gave evidence, the court adjourned until 25 May. The defendants present in court included the blogger Abduljalil Al-Singace. Fellow blogger Ali Abdulemam, regarded as one of the country’s Internet pioneers, is also a defendant but he is being tried in absentia. Despite the judge’s instructions to the contrary, it seems that most of the detainees have been in solitary confinement.
The following are still detained:
- Faysal Hayyat, Ali Jawad, Abdullah Alawi and Jasem Al-Sabbagh, who were arrested after being forced to resign from the newspaper Al-Bilad.
- Ali Omid, Hani Al-Tayf, Fadel Al-Marzouk, Hossein Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas, Jaffar Abdalsjad Abdul Hossein Al-Abbas, Hamza Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi and Ahmed Youssef Al-Dairi, who are all online forum administrator or moderators.
- Photographer Hossein Abbas Salem.
- Abbas Al-Murshid, a freelance journalist and writer who contributes to several online forums. He was arrested on 16 May.
The Yemeni authorities continue to violate media freedom. In the one of the latest cases, three government thugs known as baltagiyas attacked the Sanaa headquarters of the independent daily Al-Oula at dawn on 21 May, stabbing Hassan Sayeed, an employee. He was reported to be in a serious condition after being hospitalized.
Twelve thousands copies of Al-Oula were seized at a government checkpoint at the entrance to the capital on 19 May without any grounds being given. There were to have been distributed in the southern regions of Ibb, Taiz and Hodeidah.
Tawfiq Mourshid, who distributes newspapers from the capital in Sanhan (in Sanaa province), was arrested on 17 May. Despite negotiations between the Union of Journalists and the interior ministry, he was held for a day and half and deprived of food. Sanhan is where President Saleh is from.
On 16 May, copies of the independent daily Akhbar Al-Youm that were to have been distributed in the southern region of Dhamar were confiscated by government supporters at a checkpoint. Security forces seized copies of the pro-opposition daily Al-Qadiya, preventing its distribution in the southern governorate of Aden. Copies of Al-Yaqeen were seized at a checkpoint at the Dar Saad entrance of Aden. The journalist Ibrahim Baadani was held for several hours and badly beaten over his coverage of events in the southern region of Ibb. His camera was also seized.
Riyad Al-Adib, a journalist working for the independent NewsYemen site, was attacked by security forces while covering a sit-in by employees of the Yemeni oil company in the southern province of Taiz on 16 May. Deputy provincial security chief Mohamed Al-Shami hurled Adib’s camera to the ground and stamped on it. After being held with detained demonstrators for an hour, Adib managed to escape.
Riyad Shamsan, a journalist working for the newspaper Al-Thawra, was threatened on 16 May with being killed or having his tongue cut out.
Hossam Ashour, a journalist based in the governorate of Hadramaout who helps edit the Syon Press website (www.syonpress.com) and reports for the newspaper Al-Nada and the news website NewsYemen, was detained for several hours on 15 May as a result of a complaint by the head of a reconstruction fund that was created after heavy flooding in 2008 in Hadramaout and Al-Mahrah. A 3 May article by Ashour headlined “The true disaster” claimed that reconstruction money had been embezzled.