The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern in regards to the reported torture of a blogger who was held incommunicado as well as the arrest of his lawyer for tweeting about it. There has been an escalation in arrests and prosecution of people in Bahrain for their tweets.
Blogger Mohamed Hassan (known on Twitter as @Safybh) has reportedly been subjected to torture in detention. His lawyer, AbdulAziz Moosa informed BCHR that he was able to see torture marks on Hassan's arm, and that Mohamed stated that he was beaten at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on his back and lower abdomen.
Hassan made this statement during the interrogation session at the public prosecution that started at approximately 2:30 am on 7 August and lasted for more than three hours. Hassan said that he was forced to confess under mental and physical coercing. He was interrogated about his online activities, participation in seminars and forums outside Bahrain, and his contacts with media reporters who visit Bahrain.
The blogger was arrested from his home at around 3 am on 31 July 2013. He was held incommunicado for over three days with no access to family or a lawyer. On 3 August, he was transferred to the Dry Dock Prison.
Fourteen hours after lawyer AbdulAziz Moosa (@AbdulAzizMoosa) tweeted about seeing the torture marks on Mohamed Hassan's body, Moosa's home was raided in the village of Muqshaa, he was arrested and his personal computer was confiscated.
The public prosecution stated that Moosa will be detained for one week pending further investigation, and is charged with “the publication of defendant's names without permission and the disclosing of investigation secrets”. It should be noted that the publishing of names and photos of defendants has been typical of the government of Bahrain, and no one has been held accountable for publishing or broadcasting names and photos of political prisoners before conviction on state media outlets. The government even went to the extent of broadcasting a confession taken under duress of a political prisoner on Bahrain state television after he was tortured to death.
The arrest of Mohamed Hassan was soon followed by the arrest of award winning photojournalist Hussain Hubail who was also taken to the public prosecution for interrogation on 7 August. Hubail was arrested on the night of 31 July 2013 from the airport and he was held incommunicado for over four days until he was moved to the Dry Docks prison on 5 August and was able to call his family.
Hussain Hubail's lawyer, Ali AlAsfoor, said that Hubail was interrogated about his work as a photojournalist and his connection to some Twitter accounts that are linked to the Bahrain “Tamarrod” [Rebellion] protests planned for 14 Aug. During the time of the interrogation at the public prosecution, security forces raided the home of Hubail and confiscated his camera and laptop.
According to confirmed information received by BCHR, Hubail was reportedly subjected to torture at the CID, office number 99. He was reportedly beaten and kicked in the abdomen and face, placed in an extremely cold room, forced to stand for long periods and deprived of sleep during the entire period he spent at the CID (approximately four days). He reported this to the public prosecutor during his interrogation.
In addition to Mohamed Hassan and Hussain Hubail, other people have also been charged in the same case with: “participating in the administration of accounts that call for regime overthrow, promoting and inciting hatred against the regime, and calling for illegal rallies and gatherings”. Hassan was accused of contributing to the Twitter account of the Feb 14 media network (@Feb14Media).
One of the defendants in the case is Jassim Mohamed AlNoaimi (@Jsnoaimi) who was arrested on 31 July 2013 during a house raid, and had his mobile and computers confiscated. He is currently being held at the Dry Docks prison after he was given 45 days of detention pending investigation.
Both Mohamed Hassan and Hussain Hubail received detention orders of 45 days under investigation following the interrogation session.
On 7 August, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement related to the same case saying that it had arrested a group of people on charges of “creating and operating websites that call for the overthrow of the government using illegal means such as rallies that end in violence and vandalism. This disrupts the security and safety of the citizens and residents of Bahrain and disturbs the peace.” The statement also mentioned that the arrest of others is still ongoing leading BCHR to believe that other social media activists will be arrested as part of this campaign.
This escalating crackdown on freedom of the internet comes days after the National Assembly recommended harsher penalties for those who use social networks to express views of the opposition or what the government deems “illegal activities”.
BCHR believes the crackdown is being carried out by the authorities in the lead up to the 14 August protests to control information and news. This is a direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In the past several months, more than 106 months of imprisonment were collectively delivered against 12 online users since June 2012. Photographer Ahmed Humaidan has been in detention pending trial since 29 December 2012, while photographer Hasan Matooq is serving a three-year prison sentence since 24 March 2011 for taking photos of injuries during the events of the 2011 protests.
BCHR calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN, and all other close allies and relevant international institutions to apply real pressure on the government of Bahrain to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release blogger Mohammed Hassan, photojournalist Hussain Hubail and lawyer AbdulAziz Moosa, as well as all those detained for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression.
- End the systematic targeting of online users and news providers who are exercising their right to freedom of expression in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Immediately end the practice of systematic torture as a tool to extract confessions.
- Hold all those who have been involved in, overseeing and/or ordering violations like torture accountable, especially those in high positions.