Brothers Hussam and Mahmood Suroor Targeted for Freedom of Expression in Bahrain

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Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) express their concern over the Bahraini government’s ongoing campaign of targeting photographers, journalists and artists for documenting abuses and human rights violations committed by the government and security forces. The government arrested 17-year-old photographer Hussam Mahdi Suroor on 4 September 2014. His 26-years-old brother, artist Mahmood Suroor, was arrested and detained on 10 October 2014.

Suroor’s family told BCHR that security force stopped Hussam’s car near Duraz at approximately 22.00 on Thursday, 4 September 2014. Hussam and his friend were taken to an unofficial torture centre, known locally as ‘Khayala’, where security forces subjected them to severe beatings before transferring them to the Criminal Investigation building. Five days after the arrest, Hussam was finally permitted to contact his family. The government has ordered his detention for 60 days pending investigation, a practice now permissible due to the internationally condemned anti-terrorism law. Hussam is an amateur photographer who has risked government reprisal to document and publicize daily protests and human rights violations in Bahrain. He was previously arrested and tortured in 2012 before being released without charges.

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On 10 October 2014, masked civilian forces accompanied by police raided Mahmood Suroor’s house without providing any a search warrant. Mahmood, a 26-year-old artist, was arrested and had his phone, camera, laptop and external hard drive confiscated. Security forces also searched Mahmood’s car before leaving the house. Mahmood was subjected to enforced disappearance for five days before being transferred to the Dry Dock prison. The Public Prosecution ordered his detention for 60 days pending investigation.

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These ongoing reprisals against all forms of dissent have received international condemnation. In a recent statement, Reporters without Borders condemned what they called revengeful acts against peaceful activists for documenting and exposing human rights violations. Bahrain 19, an organization that monitors violations of freedom of expression, demanded the release of the Suroor brothers and all those who have been detained for exercising their free speech rights. As a result of such reprisals, Freedom House categorized Bahrain as one of the least free countries in the world in terms of civil liberties and political rights for five years in a row.

The signed NGOs note the Bahraini government’s ongoing campaign of suppressing dissent by targeting freedom of expression stands in violation of international covenants and charters endorsed and signed by Bahrain. Specifically, such acts constitute a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: “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.”

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) call on the United Kingdom, the United States and all of Bahrain’s allies to pressure the Bahraini government to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Hussam and Mahmood Suroor and to drop the charges against them, especially those directly related to their right to freedom of expression;
  2. Stop the systematic targeting of photographers, journalists and activists.