Bahrain: Photographer Sayed Baqer Al-Kamel and online blogger Sayed Ali Al-Durazi sentenced to prison, while Nabeel Rajab awaits appeal verdict
In May, journalists, media workers and human rights defenders continued to suffer in Bahrain, and human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, founding director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), was not the only person in court due to online activity. His trial comes at a time when the authorities are cracking down on online expression, including through a new law criminalising tweets that criticise the government and royal family.
On 20 May, Rajab, who is also the President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was in court to appeal a five-year sentence for tweeting about the war in Yemen and torture in Bahrain’s notorious Jaw prison. The appeals court will announce its verdict on 05 June. See: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1857 If Rajab is unsuccessful at the Court of Appeal, the case will move to the Court of Cassation next (contrary to what was previously reported.)
GCHR is concerned that Rajab is being held in close, dirty conditions with six other prisoners who are treated poorly because they are transgender. Complaints about verbal abuse and poor treatment of the transgender prisoners were disregarded. They don’t share a common language. Rajab is also deprived of books and writing materials. As well, doctors have recommended surgery for Rajab for skin and health issues which have occurred due to the unhygienic conditions.
Renowned “National Geographic” magazine photographer Sayed Baqer Al-Kamel (pictured centre) was also in court on 20 May 2018 appealing a two-months sentence. Al-Kamel was arrested on 27 April 2018 from Country Mall on Budaiya Highway, in the northern governorate by policemen wearing civilian clothes. The arrest was sudden and cruel.
Al-Kamel was detained incommunicado by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) for two days. Then on 29 April, Al-Kamel was informed that a two-months prison sentence had been handed down against him in absentia for protesting and rioting on 21 April 2016. Al-Kamel appealed the sentence and paid a bail of 100 Bahrain Dinars (around USD$266) in order to be released until his next court session on 20 May 2018.
On 06 May 2018, Al-Kamel went to his first hearing in the Court of Cassation, where the official charges were presented of vandalism and protesting in 2016. The court did not review the case and simply postponed the case until 20 May 2018. A verdict was expected but the hearing was postponed to 03 October 2018.
Al-Kamel is a renowned photographer on a global level, who worked for National Geographic Magazine and other international agencies. He was recognised for capturing everyday lives of communities in African and Asian countries. In Bahrain his photos raised awareness on an international level about Bahraini people’s daily suffering since 2012, which challenged the media blackout made by the Bahraini government.
Sayed Ali Al-Durazi (pictured in photo at right) is an online blogger who was arrested on 20 February 2018 and subjected to ill treatment and consecutive beating by interrogators and was forced to close all his social media accounts including his tweeter account SIi71.
On 09 May 2018, Al-Durazi was accused of using social media platforms in particular Twitter to post 200 tweets over five years that the judge claimed were inciting hatred against the Bahrain government, and insulting the king and royal family. Al-Durazi was sentenced by the fifth lower criminal court to two years in prison.
Al-Durazi is a 25-year-old online activist who had covered the civil protests in Bahrain and was famous for criticising the government and the monopoly of power by the royal family.
GCHR is deeply concerned about the systematic targeting of journalists, photographers, online activists and human rights defenders. The cases of Al-Durazi and Al-Kamel follow the examples of Mahmoud Al-Jazeri, Ali Al-Muraj and Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, who have been subjected to prolonged and endless numbers of hearings and trials, in violation of the right to fair trial.
GCHR calls on the authorities in Bahrain to:
- Cease the use of prolonged trials, respect the right to fair trial and halt the use of terrorism laws to silence journalists and delegitimise the work of human rights defenders;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Nabeel Rjab, Sayed Baqer Al-Kamel and Sayed Ali Al-Durazi; in addition to all journalists, media workers and human rights defenders who are prosecuted because of their legitimate human rights works;
- Pending his release, provide proper medical care to Nabeel Rajab and ensure that he and other prisoners are being kept in sanitary conditions; and
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all journalists, photographers, online activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.