Reporters Without Borders is concerned by a new upsurge in abusive treatment of journalists in the run-up to the major “Tamarod” rally that the opposition has called for 14 August.
Journalists who intend to cover the demonstration – and thereby challenge the government’s insistence that everything is perfect in Bahrain – are exposed to arrest and mistreatment. There is still no news of a cameraman who was arrested on 2 August.
“The authorities plan to impose a news blackout on the 14 August demonstration by jailing netizens and preventing journalists and human rights defenders from visiting Bahrain.” Reporters Without Borders said.
“They have had no hesitation about arbitrarily arresting news providers and denying them access to lawyers while failing to bring formal charges against them. We call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
At least two bloggers, two photographers and a cameraman have been arrested in Bahrain since the end of July. The police arrested them to prevent them from covering the 14 August rally, several sources told Reporters Without Borders.
Masked security agents arrested the blogger Mohamed Hassan at his home at 2 a.m. on 31 July, seizing his computer and mobile phone. The photographer Hussain Hubail was arrested the same day as he was about to leave Manama international airport.
Both were taken to El-Hod El-Gaf prison without being charged, and were held for several days without being able to contact lawyers or their families. It was only on 7 August that there were able to talk to a lawyer and were brought before prosecutors.
They have been charged being members of the “14 February media network,” calling for and participating in illegal demonstrations, inciting hatred against the government and being in contact with exiled members of the Bahraini opposition.
Hassan has said he was tortured in detention. He said that he was beaten on the back, lower abdomen and hands, was given electric shocks, and was forced to sign documents without knowing their content. Hubail was forced to remain standing for three days while being punched, kicked and insulted.
This is not the first time that Hassan – who has kept a blog on human rights and politics in Bahrain since 2007 – has been persecuted in connection with his journalistic work. He was briefly arrested in June 2012 because of what he was writing about the opposition in his blog and for local newspapers. He stopped blogging on 29 April.
Hubail is a freelance photographer who has worked for Agence France-Presse, Voice of America and other media. The independent newspaper Al-Wasat awarded him its prize in May for a photo of demonstrators in a cloud of teargas.
Since the arrests of Hassan and Hubail, others have been arrested on the same charges – participating in the 14 February media network and inciting hatred against the government.
Qassim Zain Aldeen, a freelance cameraman who posts content on several local news portals, has been held at an unknown located ever since his arrest at his home on 2 August and his family has not been told what he is charged with. He was previously held for six months in 2012.
Ahmed Al-Fardan, a photographer for the Demotix and Sipa agencies who won the Freedom House photography prize in 2012, was arrested in a west Manama café on 8 August by plainclothes police who beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not cooperate and provide photos of demonstrators. He was released a few hours later with several injuries.
Security agents arrested Hassan’s lawyer, Abdul Aziz Mousa, at this home on 7 August and seized his computer because he posted the names of the defendants on his Twitter account, along with the charges against them and the acts of torture to which they had been submitted.
The prosecutor-general said Mousa has been charged with “publishing the names of defendants without permission and divulging the secrets of an investigation.”
A reporter and a human rights defender have meanwhile been prevented from entering Bahrain. Hyder Abbasi of Al-Jazeera English was prevented from boarding a flight from Doha to Bahrain on 7 August because he is a journalist.
Two days later, the British authorities told Maryam Al-Khawaja, the acting president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, that the Bahraini authorities had forbidden her from visiting the country.
The heightened crackdown on Bahraini Internet users and activists comes just days after the National Assembly recommended tougher penalties for “those who use social networks in an illegal way (and…) use those networks to disseminate false information to foreign sides which plot against the country’s security and stability.”