On 28 October 2014, a Bahraini court sentenced award winning photographer Ammar Abdulrasool to two years in prison. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) condemn the court’s decision and the ongoing prosecution and detention of photographers in Bahrain.
Ammar Abdulrasool, a member of the International Federation for Photographic Art (FIAP) and the Photographic Society of America, has received more than 80 international awards for his photography. Abdulrasool was arrested by security forces on 24 July 2014 without being shown a search or arrest warrant. The security forces seized two digital cameras and a mobile phone belonging to Abdulrasool.
Abdulrasool was arrested and taken, handcuffed and blindfolded, to the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID). While in detention, Abdulrasool was forced to stand for three days and denied the ability to pray. Security forces beat Abdulrasool, stripped him of his clothes, sexually harassed him, threatened him with electric shocks, and threatened to arrest his wife and infant daughter. Abdulrasool was subjected to enforced disappearance for seven days and was denied access to a lawyer.
Government forces interrogated Abdulrasool regarding his work, placing emphasis on a photograph showing a peaceful protestor giving a police officer a flower (above). The photo was taken during the February 2011 demonstrations that took place in Bahrain and has been widely circulated and acclaimed since its publication, winning a number of international prizes.
On 30 July, the public prosecution ordered Abdulrasool’s continued detention for 45 days pending investigation on charges of participating in an illegal gathering. On 27 August, authorities brought Abdulrasool in front of a judge without informing his lawyers and began legal proceedings on charges of participating in an illegal gathering, rioting and throwing Molotov cocktails.
Abdulrasool is one of many who have faced reprisals from the Government of Bahrain as a result of their work. The same day Abdulrasool was sentenced, the CID summoned photographer Mohamed al-Oraibi for interrogation. On 27 October, the trial of award winning photographer Ahmed al-Fardan was postponed until 20 January 2015. Award winning photographers Ahmed Humaidan and Hussain Hubail are serving prison sentences for their work, while the government has detained award winning photographer Ahmed Almosawi without a trial since 10 February 2014.
The aforementioned organizations believe that the Bahraini government’s reprisals against photographers is a violation of covenants and international treaties that guarantee the right to freedom of expression, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The aforementioned organizations calls on the government of Bahrain to ensure the following and call on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and all other allies of the Bahrain government, and international institutions to put pressure on Bahrain to:
- Immediate release Ammar Abdulrasool and all detained photographers;
- Allow for the safe exercise of the right to freedom of expression without reprisals; and
- Put an end to the systematic targeting of photographers, journalists and bloggers.