Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the five-year jail sentences that a court passed today on the photographer Hussain Hubail and the cyber-activist Jassim Al-Nuaimi. Seven other activists received similar sentences.
“Many Bahraini news providers are getting long jail terms” said Lucie Morillon, head of research and advocacy at Reporters Without Borders. “Far from the international community’s cameras and attention, the authorities are cracking down on freedom of information and its actors. It is time that the persecution and sham trials ended. We again call for the release of all the detained journalists and cyber-activists.”
A well-known press photographer who freelanced for various media including Agence France-Presse and Voice of America, Hubail was arrested at Manama international airport as he was about to board an international flight on 31 July 2013 and was incarcerated in El-Hod El-Gaf prison, where he was unable to contact his family or his lawyer for several days.
He was finally charged a month later with belonging to the “14 February media network,” "calling for and participating in illegal demonstrations", "inciting hatred of the government" and "being in contact with government opponents in exile".
Hubail has said he has been mistreated and tortured in detention – claims that were never the subject of an independent investigation by the authorities.
On 15 December 2013, Reporters Without Borders and nine other human rights organizations asked Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to investigate the detention and torture of three Bahraini news and information providers including Hubail.
In May 2013, the independent newspaper Al-Wasat awarded Hubail a prize for a photo of demonstrators in a cloud of teargas.
Nuaimi was arrested at his home by masked plainclothes security men on 31 July 2013 (the same day as Hubail) and was charged with inciting anti-government hatred and calling for illegal demonstrations in messages posted on social media. He has also reported being mistreated and tortured. Four days after his arrest, he was transferred to Dry Dock prison, only to be taken before a prosecutor and forced to sign a confession, he said.
During a hearing on 27 January, Nuaimi testified that he was not in Bahrain when the offending messages were posted and that he had sold his computer before they were posted, so he could not have been responsible.
Three other Bahraini news and information providers have received jail sentences since the start of the year. The photographer Abdullah Salman Al-Jerdabi, who was arrested on 13 September 2013, was sentenced on 22 January to six months in prison on charges "of participating in an illegal demonstration" and "misuse of social networks".
The blogger Ali Maaraj was sentenced to 30 months in prison on 8 April on charges of "insulting the king" and “improper handling” of information technology". And the photographer Ahmed Humaidan was sentenced to 10 years in prison on 26 March for "allegedly taking part in an attack on a police station in Sitra" in April 2012 although he was nowhere near the police station at the time.
The situation of freedom of information is more than worrying in Bahrain, which is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.