New York, September 6, 2012--Bahraini authorities should toss out the unjust conviction and life sentence handed to an online journalist who was imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression during the country's 2011 popular uprising, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The High Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a life sentence given to Abduljalil Alsingace, a prominent independent blogger and human rights defender, on charges related to "plotting to topple" the regime, according to news reports. Alsingace had been convicted and sentenced by a military court in June 2011, the reports said.
The appellate court on Tuesday also upheld harsh sentences given to 19 co-defendants, including human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was handed a life term, news reports said. The court also upheld a 15-year jail term against Ali Abdel Imam, an online journalist who had been convicted in absentia, the reports said.
The defendants plan to appeal the ruling again with the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court of appeals, news reports said.
The conduct of the prosecution has been questioned by an independent panel commissioned by the Bahraini government. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry suggested that Alsingace and his co-defendants be granted a civilian retrial since they had initially been tried in military tribunals, news reports said. In response, authorities conducted the appeal in a civilian court.
Human rights groups reported that the appeals process was marred by procedural irregularities. The court appointed new defense lawyers against the wishes of the defendants, not all of the defense witnesses were heard, and the court did not investigate reports that the defendants had been tortured in custody, the groups said.
"More than a year after the anti-government protest movement in Bahrain, the government is still prosecuting journalists and human rights defenders for their dissenting opinions," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "The expression of critical opinion is protected by international law and can never be a crime."
Alsingace and Abdel Imam were arrested in August and September 2010, respectively. They were detained on anti-state conspiracy charges until February 2011, according to news reports. Alsingace was re-arrested and Abdel Imam went into hiding in March 2011, news reports said.
In the past 19 months, journalists in Bahrain have endured the worst conditions since King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa assumed the throne in 1999. CPJ has documented three journalist deaths, including a videographer killed in April; dozens of detentions; arbitrary deportations; official smear campaigns against journalists; and numerous physical assaults.
- For more data and analysis on Bahrain, visit CPJ's Bahrain page here.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The alert has been modified to reflect the correct date of the 2010 arrests of Abduljalil Alsingace and Ali Abdel Imam. The alert has also been corrected to reflect that Abdel Imam went into hiding in March 2011 and was tried in absentia.