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Former AFP photographer arrested in Bahrain airport

Mohammed al-Shaikh, a former AFP photographer pictured while covering protests in Manama in 2013, is detained in Bahrain. (AFP/STR)

New York, March 22, 2017--Bahraini authorities should immediately release Mohammed al-Shaikh, a photographer who worked for Agence France-Presse, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Al-Shaikh was arrested at Bahrain International Airport in the capital, Manama, yesterday and was transferred to the country's Criminal Investigation Unit, according to Bahraini journalist Nazeeha Saeed and a statement AFP emailed to CPJ.

Al-Shaikh, an award-winning Bahraini photographer who was arrested on his return from a vacation in India, has not been allowed access to a lawyer or told the reason for his arrest, according to Saeed, who says she spoke with al-Shaikh.

The photojournalist worked for AFP until last August, when authorities refused to renew his press license, AFP said in its email.

"Bahrain's draconian journalist licensing law has already cost Mohammed al-Shaikh his job. Now he's been robbed of his freedom," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "It is outrageous that he should be detained on his return from vacation and denied access to a lawyer. The authorities should free him immediately."

When CPJ contacted the Embassy of Bahrain in Washington, D.C. via telephone for comment about al-Shaikh's arrest it was told to contact the Bahraini ambassador. The ambassador's office did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment via email.

Al-Shaikh covered Bahrain for AFP for four years and won the 2014 Bayeux-Calvados prize for his coverage of protests that began in the country in 2011. He left the agency last year when authorities did not renew his license. Bahrain's press and publications law requires all journalists working with international media to obtain a license from the Information Affairs Authority. The license has to be renewed annually.

The Ministry of Information has refused to renew licenses for at least four journalists, including al-Shaikh and Saeed, according to a January statement by the nonprofit Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. The journalists worked for Reuters, AFP, and The Associated Press, the institute reported.

Seven journalists were imprisoned in Bahrain at the time of CPJ's most recent prison census. The government crackdown on the press began in the wake of the 2011 protests. In January, CPJ documented how authorities shuttered the independent Bahraini outlet Al-Wasat for "inciting division, jeopardizing national unity, and disrupting public peace." CPJ issued a joint statement last year calling attention to the kingdom's continued repression of journalists.

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