New York, March 26, 2014--Today's conviction of freelance photographer Ahmed Humaidan is an attempt by Bahraini authorities to censor independent and dissident voices in the lead-up to the Formula One race in April, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Humaidan, who has been imprisoned since December 2012, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, according to news reports.
Humaidan was one of more than 30 other individuals tried on charges of participating in an attack against a police station on the island of Sitra in 2012, according to news reports. The reports said three defendants were acquitted, and the rest were sentenced to between three and 10 years in prison.
Humaidan was at the station to document the attack as part of his coverage of unrest in the country since anti-government protests erupted in February 2011, according to news reports. His photographs have been published by local opposition websites, including the online newsmagazine Alhadath and the news website Alrasid. Adel Marzouk, head of the Bahrain Press Association, told CPJ in December 2012 that Humaidan's photographs had often exposed police attacks on protesters during demonstrations.
Humaidan's defense lawer, Fadel al-Sawad, told the Bahrain Press Association, an independent media freedom organization based in London, that he would file an official appeal on Thursday.
"Ahmed Humaidan's only 'crime' was to commit acts of independent journalism, and we call on authorities to free him on appeal," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "The Bahraini government apparently welcomes the Formula One, but when it comes to controlling the narrative of events inside the country it has no tolerance for competition."
Another Bahraini journalist's health has seriously deteriorated in prison, according to news reports. Hussein Hubail, who has been jailed since July 2013 and accused of inciting against "public order and the community's security," is scheduled to appear in court on March 31, the reports said.
The convictions come as the country prepares to host the Formula One race on April 6. CPJ research shows that the Bahraini government intensifies its crackdown on the press before high-profile events like the Formula One in an attempt to whitewash its human rights record.
This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based nonprofit Reporters Without Borders have launched a joint social media campaign, calling on the government to put the brakes on press censorship. The campaign will use the social media tool Thunderclap to collect hundreds of tweets and Facebook posts on press freedom in Bahrain that will be posted simultaneously at the start of the F1 race on April 6.