Mahmoud al-Jaziri

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Mahmoud al-Jaziri, arrested in December 2015, was a reporter for the now-defunct independent newspaper Al-Wasat, the last independent newspaper in Bahrain. Al-Jaziri was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of belonging to a terrorist group and stripped of his citizenship.

Police arrested al-Jaziri at his home in Nabih Saleh Island, south of the capital Manama, on the morning of December 28, 2015. He was allowed to call his brother later that day to say he was being held as part of a criminal investigation, local human rights groups and Al-Wasat reported.

The Interior Ministry named al-Jaziri as among those arrested for allegedly plotting terrorist attacks funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, according to a January 1, 2016, report by the official Bahrain News Agency. That announcement came amid a diplomatic rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies, including Bahrain, after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. It also followed years of official persecution–including the 2011 death in custody of a founding investor–of Al-Wasat staff.

On January 4, 2016, two days after al-Nimr’s death, al-Jaziri was referred to a special prosecutor for terrorist crimes who charged him with supporting terrorism, inciting hatred of the regime, having contacts with a foreign country, and seeking to overthrow the regime by joining the Al-Wafaa Islamic Party, the banned political group, and the February 14 Youth Movement which had organized anti-government protests, according to news reports. The Interior Ministry statement carried by Bahrain News Agency listed al-Jaziri and three co-accused as members of an armed wing of Al-Wafaa that was plotting bombings in cooperation with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

On June 28, 2016, the public prosecutor announced the commencement of a trial of 18 suspects, including al-Jaziri and another journalist, Ali Mearaj, according to the independent newspaper al-Wasat.

On October 30, 2017, a Bahraini court convicted al-Jaziri of belonging to a terrorist group, sentenced the journalist to 15 years in prison, and revoked his citizenship, according to reports. A journalist familiar with the case, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, told CPJ that authorities did not provide written copies of the verdict explaining the court’s decision on sentencing to al-Jaziri’s lawyer. The journalist said al-Jaziri would appeal.

Mansoor al-Jamri, editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat and CPJ’s 2011 International Press Freedom Awardee, told CPJ that al-Jaziri denied the charges and told prosecutors his relationship with Al-Wafaa did not extend beyond proofreading the group’s public statements, an activity he stopped after becoming a professional journalist in 2012. Al-Jamri said al-Jaziri covered parliamentary news for Al-Wasat.

Al-Jaziri was arrested on the same day that Al-Wasat published his report on a member of parliament’s proposal to deny housing to Bahrainis whose citizenship had been revoked for political activities.

Over the course of 2013 and 2014, he wrote a series of opinion articles for Al-Wasat in which he blamed world and regional powers for what he called the "failures" of the 2011 uprisings collectively known as the Arab Spring, criticized the lack of compromise in the region’s conflicts, and called for closer relationships between predominantly Sunni and Shiite countries.

According to a Facebook post by the Bahrain Press Association, al-Jaziri’s family said he was blindfolded for an unspecified number of days after his arrest. The family said he was banned from sitting or sleeping for three days during questioning and before he signed a confession, unaware of its content.

On May 6, 2019, Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld the verdict, according to the journalist with knowledge of his situation. CPJ could not determine if al-Jaziri was present at the court for the session.

In April 2020, al-Jaziri was moved to solitary confinement for at least four days after he released a recording from Jaw Prison reporting on the facility’s lack of containment measures for COVID-19, according to Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy at the independent, London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. In the recording al-Jaziri disputed reports from the government that prison authorities had taken measures to prevent the spread of the virus at Jaw Prison and set up a system for inmates to hold video calls with their families.

Alwadaei told CPJ later that month that prison authorities moved al-Jaziri back into the general population and allowed him to resume calls with his family. As of September 2020, al-Jaziri had not faced any further reprisals, according to Alwadaei. Also as of September 2020, the journalist with knowledge of al-Jaziri’s situation said he was not suffering from any health problems.

CPJ emailed the Bahrain Ministry of Interior’s media center in September 2020 asking for comment about al-Jaziri’s case, access to health care in Jaw prison, measures against COVID-19, mistreatment and retaliation against prisoners behind bars, and questions about specific detainees’ medical issues, but did not receive a response. In October 2020, CPJ also emailed the Bahraini Embassy in Washington, D.C. with questions about the reasons for the continued imprisonment of al-Jaziri and other journalists, as well as their health and treatment behind bars, but did not immediately receive a response.