The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is deeply concerned about the ongoing detention and trial of prominent Bahraini bloggers Ali Abdel Imam and Abdeljalil Alsingace. We're outraged by allegations of torture made by the two bloggers, along with those made by 23 activists and opposition figures. We call on your government to ensure that the bloggers are not abused while in custody and are granted all their rights--including access to counsel and family visits. We also call on you to instruct the proper authorities to revoke all the restrictions imposed on the coverage of the case ahead of the next court session scheduled for December 9.
Ali Abdel Imam was detained on September 4 by security forces after he was summoned for questioning by the National Security Apparatus. The news website he established in 1999, BahrainOnline--one of the most popular news sites in Bahrain--has been shut down since that day. His arrest came amid a government crackdown on opposition activists ahead of the October parliamentary elections. Abduljalil Alsingace, a blogger and an active member in the Haq Movement for Civil Liberties and Democracy, was among the first wave of detainees. He was arrested on August 13 at the Bahrain International Airport when returning from a visit in London, where he spoke critically about human rights violations in Bahrain. Before his detention, Alsingace regularly published articles critical of the government's record, particularly with regard to Shiites' rights.
On October 28, when the trial began under a tight security presence, Abdel Imam and Alsingace appeared in front of the High Criminal Court in Manama. They are each accused of forming an illegal organization, engaging in and financing terrorism, and spreading false and misleading information, according to the indictment. Some of those charges carry a life sentence, one of the lawyers told Agence France-Presse.
The two men were allowed to see their lawyer for the first time after weeks in detention for only 30 minutes, according to international news reports. During their first court appearance they both said that they had been tortured. "I was subjected to torture, beatings, insults, and verbal abuse," Abdel Imam told the judge, according to statements widely circulated by local and regional human rights groups. Abduljalil Alsingace said they were subjected to "physical and mental torture" and placed in solitary confinement, according to AFP. CPJ is troubled to learn that the court declined to meaningfully investigate the torture allegations, permitting only some of the detainees to be examined by a physician, whose findings were never made public. We call on your government to conduct a prompt investigation into these serious allegations. We were also shocked to learn that after submitting the torture complaints, detainees, including the two bloggers, were seriously beaten after being taking back to prison, local human rights groups told CPJ.
We also ask you to intervene to revoke the gag order imposed on the media covering the case since August 27 by the public prosecutor, Ali Al-Buainani. In October, the trial judge decided to extend the gag order based on a request from the prosecutor. In a public statement released on October 28, you said that "every defendant has the right to a fair trial. It will be a public trial in which the detainees will be presented in a court and will have independent defense lawyers." The gag order and the restriction the defendants have had to their lawyers belie those assertions.
We are concerned that these bloggers could well be punished for the mere expression of opinions that the government finds distasteful, and we ask that you intervene to ensure that they receive a fair trial. Bahrain's Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, vowed on October 27 that his government was "keen to promote Bahrain's image to be in harmony with the landmark political, economic, and social strides." The ordeal of these detained bloggers stands in direct opposition to that declaration.
Thank for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your response.