Freelance journalist Hassan Qambar had filmed pro-reform protests and disturbances undercover for years before his arrest in June 2018 in Bahrain. Prior to his arrest, he was sentenced in absentia to 55 years in prison. In recent years, authorities added additional charges, with the journalist facing 100 years behind bars.
Qambar was arrested on June 12, 2018, by Bahraini security officials when they raided a house in Nwaidrat, according to a journalist with knowledge of his situation who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, as well as a July 16, 2018, report by the U.S.-based human rights group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB).
Qambar had been a freelance camera operator since 2009, the journalist told CPJ. ADHRB reported that Qambar was arrested in April 2011 after covering the first two months of pro-democracy protests in February and March of that year. He was charged with posting false news and rumors, as well as vandalism, and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison. However, an appeals court reduced his sentence and he was released in February 2012, ADRHB reported. The journalist familiar with his case said that when Qambar was interrogated after his initial arrest, all the questions were about his media work, but it was unclear if they referred to his journalism or his media work with an opposition politician. In 2011, Qambar joined the media team for opposition political leader Abdulwahab Hussain, the journalist told CPJ. Hussain is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain for his political activities, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
ADHRB reported that Qambar continued to cover Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement after his 2011 release. The journalist told CPJ that Qambar continued filming in secret, and his video footage of protests and abuses by Bahraini security forces was featured by Reuters, Russian state-owned outlet RT Arabic, and other outlets. In an email to CPJ, an RT Arabic representative told CPJ the outlet obtained the footage from the video news agency Ruptly, which is a division of RT, and from The Associated Press.
ADHRB reported that Qambar’s home was raided more than 60 times between 2012 and 2018. The journalist familiar with his case told CPJ that intelligence agents continually raided Qambar’s house and tried to arrest him before June 2018 and threatened his family by saying that they would kill him when they arrested him.
Qambar is being held in Jaw Prison, and according to the journalist familiar with his case and to ADHRB, he was convicted in absentia of seven charges, including burning tires, assaulting a police officer, and participating in a terrorist organization, and sentenced to a combined total of at least 55 years in prison. According to ADHRB, the sentences were issued before Hassan was arrested in 2018.
In recent years authorities have added additional charges against Qambar, including helping to form a group called “Hizbulla al-Bahrain,” according to the journalist. CPJ could not determine if this group is a local branch of Hezbollah or a different group. He also faced charges of leading a terrorist cell and inciting hatred against the regime, the journalist said. In 2019, the Bahrain Press Association documented a further charge against Qambar, that of filming and sabotaging riot operations. According to the journalist, as of November 2020 all court proceedings against Qambar have finished, with the journalist sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. CPJ was unable to determine which specific charges he was sentenced on.
According to a July 20, 2018, report from the opposition activist group February 14 Revolutionary Youth Coalition, prison authorities tortured Qambar and denied him access to treatment or medication. According to the report by Lua Lua TV which cites the February 14 Coalition and which appears to have been taken offline, Qambar was seen by another inmate in June 2018 walking on crutches with injuries apparently resulting from being physically assaulted. The journalist familiar with his case also told CPJ that prison authorities beat Qambar alongside other inmates on October 15, 2018, when he asked for permission to perform religious rituals.
As of September 2022, CPJ couldn’t confirm whether Qambar had any new court appearances, charges, nor the status of his health in prison.
CPJ emailed the Bahrain Interior Ministry’s press office in September 2022 for comment on Qambar and the cases of other Bahraini journalists in prison, but did not immediately receive a response.