Saturday, August 03, 2013

Bahrain: Concern over whereabouts of Bahraini blogger and his photojournalist colleague


2 August 2013 Bahrain Center for Human Rights

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses grave concern in regards to the recent arrest of blogger and media fixer Mohamed Hassan (27) during a dawn raid on his home on 31 July 2013. More than 24 hours after his arrest, there is still no confirmed information on his whereabouts and wellbeing and he is considered to be subject to enforced disappearance.

At around 3am on 31 July 2013, masked men in civilian clothes belonging to the Ministry of Interior raided the blogger's house and arrested him after presenting an arrest warrant but without giving any justification for the arrest or information on the charges pressed against him. They also confiscated his electronic devices.

Hassan's family received a brief call from him on 31 July during which they were informed he would be transferred to the dry dock detention center. However, when they went there on 1 August, the prison administration denied holding him. His family was not able to get any further information or get access to Hassan. Moreover, his lawyer has been unable to contact him.

Previous targeting

This is not the first time the blogger is targeted by the authorities in Bahrain. Hassan, also known as @Safybh, is known for expressing his views on Twitter and on his blog in support of the struggle for freedom and democracy in Bahrain. He stopped tweeting and blogging on April 2013.

He was previously arrested on 21 April 2012 while he was escorting reporters to protesting villages to show them the violations of the authorities against peaceful protesters. He was hit with a gun barrel in his leg and reportedly severely beaten before getting arrested. He was denied access to a lawyer, and released the next day. He was then arrested again on 22 April 2012 at a checkpoint in Sanabis with journalist Colin Freeman from The Sunday Telegraph. They were taken to the Exhibition Center police station. Hassan was interrogated about his connection to the journalist and they were later released without any charges.

In June 2012 Hassan was summoned for interrogation, and was accused on three charges: writing for websites and newspapers without a license, illegal gathering and tweeting. He wrote later on his twitter: "They asked me about all tweets, even the ones where I say goodnight, I was also questioned about the articles I write and the journalists I know, especially when I was arrested and beaten last April. I was accused of calling for 'unlicensed' marches when I invited people to [participate in] Nabeel Rajab's 'Thank you' march, [the] problem is: it was actually licensed. After asking a lawyer I realized that I was correct about not needing a license for blogging or writing an op-ed for a website."

Hassan has been also a fixer for multiple reporters, including the Dan Rather crew when they were in Bahrain in March 2012. (Check this "Behind the Scenes" report).

He appeared in the Dan Rather Report. When he was asked if it was safe for him to speak to the press, he replied "I don't care anymore. My friends have been in prison, some of them are still in prison, and some of them are in hiding and some of them are dead." He continues "by now if anything would have happened, I would've accepted it, I have no choice but to accept it."

Hassan told his friends after the broadcast of that report: "I started getting some calls after appearing on the Dan Rather Report, waiting to see their next move." Their next move was to have him arrested and beaten in April 2012.

He also participated in a Bahrain debate in Feb 2012, with a group of Bahraini youth of different views aiming to bridge their differences. Hassan was clear in supporting the people's rights and firmly refused violence.

The BCHR believes that Mohamed Hassan is repeatedly targeted merely due to expressing his views publicly over the internet and for assisting international media reporters.

Based on the above information, the BCHR demands that the Government of Bahrain immediately release him as well as all detainees who have been arrested based on reasons related to them practicing their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembling which are guaranteed to them by international laws.

Photojournalist arrested

In addition to the concern over Hassan's enforced disappearance, an award winning photojournalist and close friend of Hassan's, Hussain Hubail (21), was arrested on the night of 31 July 2013, at the Bahrain International Airport while on his way to Dubai, UAE. His family went to ask about him at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) but the administration denied having Hubail in their custody. As such, Hubail is now also considered subjected to enforced disappearance as there is still no information on his whereabouts and wellbeing.

Hubail won 1st place in a photography contest run by Alwasat newspaper in May 2013 for a photograph of protesters amid clouds of tear gas. BCHR has information that a photo in which Hubail appeared covering one of the opposition societies rallies, was shown to detainees in the past months at the CID and the interrogators were trying to find the identity of the photographer in that photo. The BCHR believes that Hubail has been targeted because of his work as a photojournalist. 

The BCHR calls on the international community to apply real pressure on the Government of Bahrain to demand the immediate release of blogger Mohammed Hassan and photojournalist Hussain Hubail. To add to that, the BCHR calls for an end of the Government of Bahrain's 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.