As we prepare to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) condemns the enforced dissolution of the Bahrain Photographic Society in April, as well as the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and the creation of civil society organizations.
On 25 April 2016, the Head of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities, Sheikha Mai Al-Khalifa, issued an order to disband the Bahrain Photographic Society, effective immediately. To justify the decision, Al-Khalifa declared it was based on the alleged “involvement of members of the Society in activities contrary to the law and public order.”
The Bahrain Photographic Society is a legal organization which was officially authorized in November 2015. It held its first presidential elections in January this year and has been active in organizing photography events and workshops, promoting photography in Bahrain.
This is the latest attempt by the Bahraini authorities to target photographers and their freedom of expression and assembly. Several photojournalists are also imprisoned for simply doing their job. Award-winning photographer Ahmed Humaidan is currently in prison, serving a 10-year sentence for documenting pro-democracy demonstrations. Freelance photographer Hussein Hubail was condemned to five years in prison in April 2014 for allegedly “using social media networks to incite hatred of the regime,” “calling on people to ignore the law” and “calling for illegal demonstrations.”
Photographer Jaffar Marhoon was arrested on 26 December 2013 and was convicted in 24 politically motivated cases, which resulted in the court sentencing him to life imprisonment on 4 February 2015.
Sayed Ahmed Al-Mousawi, a photographer who has won 127 international awards for excellence in his field, was arrested on 10 February 2014, and subjected to enforced disappearance for at least four days. During this period, security forces severely tortured him. On 23 November 2015, Al-Mousawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Currently, he is serving his sentence at Jau prison.
When it comes to attacks on associations, the Bahraini authorities have dissolved several societies. On 2014, Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Khalid Ali Al-Khalifa, filed an administrative lawsuit against Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society and the National Democratic Action Society ‘Waad’ on the pretext that public conferences held by the two societies committed administrative violations. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in a court hearing in January 2014 to dissolve the Islamic Olamaa Council and liquidate its funds, following a lawsuit from the Minister of Justice alleging that the Council “practices political institutional activities that are immune from any legal control and which deviated in practicing this activity to the extent of incitement of violence.” The Teachers Association has been dissolved in 2011.
The BCHR calls on the Bahraini government to immediately:
- Respect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression;
- End the ban on peaceful civil associations;
- Put an end to the continued targeting of photojournalists and their families;
- Put an end to all procedures and actions aiming at restricting or hampering freedom of association in Bahrain; and
- Respect freedom of the right to associations and uphold commitments to international agreements.