On 3 February 2016, a Bahraini court upheld photographer Ahmed al-Fardan’s three-month prison sentence on charges of “attempting” to protest. We condemn the Bahraini authorities’ continued targeting and prosecution of photographers and journalists, which directly violates internationally guaranteed freedoms of expression and media.
On 26 December 2013 at 3:00 A.M., security forces raided al-Fardan’s house, confiscated his camera and other electronic devices, and arrested him. The security forces did not present an arrest or search warrant, did not inform him of the charges against him, and did not tell him where they would take him. They later charged him with “illegal assembly” and detained him for 14 days before he was finally released on bail. In May 2014, the authorities transferred his case to the court, and in 2015 the court sentenced him to three months’ imprisonment. He denied all charges, and stated that his presence in the protests was strictly related to his professional activity as a journalist and photographer. On 3 February 2016, the Court of Appeals upheld his sentence, and security forces arrested him in the courtroom.
During his previous arrest, security forces subjected al-Fardan to torture at the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). They repeatedly beat him on his face and genitals, kept him in a very cold room, and limited his access to sanitary facilities. Al-Fardan suffered difficulty breathing, passed out, and was taken to the hospital. Due to the severity of his torture, al-Fardan suffered two broken ribs.
Al-Fardan works for the Italian-based NurPhoto Agency as a contributing photographer, and is a former member of the Photographic Society of America (PSA). Al-Fardan’s photos of the unrest in Bahrain have appeared in international news outlets and have been recognized by human rights groups. On 23 November 2013, one of his photos won second place in IFEX’s international contest to expose impunity, as part of the International Day to End Impunity. Before that, he had received the first place award in Freedom House Photography’s annual photo contest in 2013.
Al-Fardan is not the only photographer who has regularly been harassed and arbitrarily charged with criminal offences by Bahraini authorities. Jaffar Marhoon, Qassim Zen-al-deen, Abdullah Salman Al-Jirdabi, and Hussein Hubail are other photographers victimized by the Bahraini government’s repressive campaign against freedom of expression. The Bahraini authorities’ arrest and detention of journalists and photographers is in direct violation of several international human rights instruments, namely the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibit arbitrary arrest and torture and guarantee the rights to free expression and assembly for all.
Based on the above, we call on the Bahraini government to:
- Immediately release Ahmed al-Fardan and other photographers unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain , and drop all charges against them; and
- Immediately end all forms of restrictions that threaten freedom of expression, media and opinion in Bahrain.