UPDATE: Photographer freed but still facing prosecution (RSF, 10 January 2014)
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its concern at the escalating and suppressive campaign led by the authority in Bahrain against photographers present on the ground who deliver, through their cameras, the violations practiced by the authority against public gatherings. Security forces most recently arrested two photographers, Ahmed AlFardan and Jaffar Marhoon, on 26 December 2013 in two separate incidents.
AlFardan's family stated that civilian members affiliated with the National Security Apparatus accompanied by police vehicles raided his house at dawn on 26 December and confiscated a number of his electronic devices. The family added that those who raided the house did not present any court orders to search the house or any arrest warrant for AlFardan. His family is concerned for his safety and fear that he might be subjected to torture or other violations given the non-disclosure of his whereabouts until now.
AlFardan works with the Italian (NurPhoto) agency as a contributing photographer and is a former member of the Photographic Society of America (PSA). AlFardan had won many international awards in recognition for his skills in photography and to celebrate the exceptional photos he presents.
The most recent award he had received was from IFEX in its Impunity Exposed photo contest on 23 November 2013. Before that he had received the Freedom House photography prize. Freedom House has condemned his arrest in a statement published on its site and urged the authority in Bahrain to maintain freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.
AlFardan had previously mentioned to BCHR that on 9 August 2013 he was kidnapped by civilian forces while sitting at a café near his home. He added that his kidnappers asked him to work with them in the National Security Apparatus as an informant and that they threatened him that if he refuses their offer they will fabricate malicious cases against him in punishment. The kidnappers told AlFardan that they are the ones running the country and that they could do that to him. He refused their offer and as a result, was beaten before being let go.
In a separate incident but on the same day, and amid mysterious circumstances, security forces kidnapped photographer Jaffar Abdul-Nabi Marhoon from a barber shop in his village. Eye witnesses stated that he was severely beaten during arrest. The village had been subjected to a high security alert before the family realized that their son had disappeared. Marhoon's house had been previously raided more than five times with the intent to arrest him.
In addition to AlFardan and Marhoon, five photographers are currently held in Bahraini prisons. Photographer Hassan Matooq was arrested on 24 March 2011 and sentenced to three years in prison for taking photos of injured citizens during peaceful protests at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama. Another photographer, Ahmed Humaidan was arrested on 28 December 2012 at a movie theatre. He was subjected to torture and intimidation and forced to confess to committing acts of terrorism.
After Humaidan, airport security forces arrested the young photographer Hussein Hubail on 31 July 2013 while he was heading to Dubai through Bahrain's international airport. Hubail's family stated that he was subjected to harassment inside prison and deliberate neglect to his health condition causing it to deteriorate.
Security forces also arrested the photographer Qassim Zen-al-Deen on 2 August 2013 when they stormed his house at dawn without presenting a court order to arrest him, and confiscated his electronic devices. Riot police also arrested the photographer Abdullah Salman Al-Jirdabi on 13 September 2013. Al-Jirdabi was beaten by security forces on the way to the police station, where he was injured in the knee and wounded under his lower lip. Information received indicated that he was threatened with further harassment after officers discovered that he was a photographer. Al-Jirdabi is still on remand in prison on charges of illegal gathering; he complains of the lack of necessary medication.
BCHR fears that AlFardan and Marhoon will be subjected to the torture and abuse that their colleagues were subjected to in the Criminal Investigation Department to falsely confess to malicious charges to punish them for their influential peaceful activity.
BCHR finds that targeting photographers falls within the Bahraini authority's attempt to cover up the violations and keep the incidents in Bahrain beyond the scope of neutral media coverage. Since 2011, Bahrain witnessed an increase in violations practiced against journalists, media workers and photographers; some of them were subjected to direct teargas shots. The authorities also prevented a group of journalists from entering Bahrain, among them journalist Nick Kristof. Around 200 journalists were banned from entering Bahrain, the last of whom was David Isaksson, a Swedish journalist. The Bahraini authority believes that by doing so it can withhold the truth from the eyes of international organizations and observers who witnessed firsthand the violations that the citizens are subjected to.
Sayed Yousif Al-Muhafdha, the vice president of BCHR, commented on the plight of these photographers saying: "Arresting them is a blatant violation of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and especially Article 19 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”, and that will not stop new photographers and activists from emerging and continuing the march for rights and freedom."
Based on the above, BCHR calls on the United States, United Kingdom, United Nations and all the close allies of the Bahraini regime and other relevant international organizations to:
- Put pressure on the authority in Bahrain to take into consideration and maintain human rights especially those related to freedom of press and dissemination of information;
- Trying Bahrain internationally for the continuous and repetitive violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it had already endorsed, especially Article 19 that is related to freedom of expression;
- Put pressure on Bahrain to sign an optional protocol that allows holding the authority in Bahrain internationally accountable for its violations of human rights, especially those related to freedom of opinion and expression.
It also calls on the Bahraini regime to:
- Immediately release all the detained photographers and allow them to unconditionally practice their rights without harassment;
- Stop the systematic policy of targeting photographers, journalists and bloggers;
- Hold accountable all those involved in the violations and torture whether by supervision and / or order and subject them to questioning, especially the higher ranking ones;
- Drop all charges related to freedom of expression in the ongoing trials.