Military provisions against freedom of expression upheld: three years in prison for the photographer and Nurse Hassan Matooq

Despite many reports confirming the absence of the conditions for fair trials, arbitrary detention, and the occurrence of torture, hundreds are still in prison

The international community must act immediately to guarantee justice for victims in light of the vast amount of information

2 Dec 2011 The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is deeply concerned with the news that the Court of Cassation has on November 28, 2011 upheld a provision issued by the Military Court (the Court of National Safety) which previously sentenced the nurse and photographer Hassan Matooq to 3 years imprisonment in a move that reveals the government’s intent to continue violations of human rights, in particular the right to a fair trial, protection from torture and freedom of expression. Matooq is serving a prison sentence for his photography activities during the protests. Hassan Matooq, 30 , a pediatric nurse for more than 7 years, is married with one child and practices photography as a hobby.

On March 24, 2011, after declaring a state of national safety and the start of the mass arrests campaign, Matooq was arrested by more than 20 army masked men from the Salmaniya Hospital, where he was present on duty after midnight. Matooq was exposed to beating, kicking and verbal abuse from the moment of arrest, and even his ring was stolen from his finger by one of those involved in arresting him.

During his detention, Matooq was severely beaten and hung by his hands for up to 8 days at a time. He was prevented from sleeping and threatened that his wife and sister would be raped in front of him. His camera and all the films, as well as his wife's car which he used to go to work on the day of his arrest, were all confiscated.

His family was unable to find out where he was in detention until weeks after the arrest. They were not allowed to visit him or see him until the beginning of his trial at military court (Court of the National Safety) a month and a half after his arrest. They were informed of the date of his trial less than 24 hours before it took place, making it difficult to find a lawyer. Matooq attended the first hearing on May 9, 2011 without a lawyer at the military court.

At the next session on May 12, 2011, after a short hearing, the military court sentenced Matooq to three years imprisonment for illegal assembly and dissemination of fabricated photos of the wounded who suffered injuries as a result of the brutal repression exercised by the government against peaceful protesters in Bahrain. These charges directly contradict the Bahraini Constitution (Articles 23, 26, 28) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed and ratified by Bahrain in 2006), which guarantees the right of peaceful assembly and expression of opinion by any means, including photography and publishing.

While state media machines worked intensively to promote the transfer of national safety cases to the civil courts, the reality shows that Hasan Matooq, like dozens of other detainees, has not had a chance of re-trial in a civilian court. His first appeal was considered at the Military court of Appeals during the period of national safety, which upheld the ruling in June. After the issuance of a Royal Decree in late June allowing those convicted in cases of national safety to challenge the provisions in the civil courts, Matooq’s lawyer submitted an appeal request which was not considered until November 28, 2011, when the Court of Cassation upheld the ruling issued by the military court of three years imprisonment.

Numerous human rights organizations, both local and international (HRW, Amnesty), have condemned the provisions of the military court for violating the fundamental right of civilians detainees to undergo trial in a competent court. , as well as the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), condemned the large-scale torture which was behind the coerced confessions used by the military court as the only evidence in most cases. Rights groups and lawyers have challenged the constitutionality of the Bahrain National Safety court and demanded a halt to the implementation of its sentences. The Court of Cassation continues to look at the many cases that were ruled by military courts where the convicted were not allowed any chance of a fair trial, all of whom have been through the same conditions of arbitrary detention and torture , because of their involvement in the peaceful protests.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights believes that the continued detention of prisoners of conscience is an illegal act. Both local human rights groups and the BICI, appointed by the King, have confirmed that arrests happened on the back of the exercise of legitimate rights to express opinion and peaceful assembly, pointing to the arbitrariness in the procedures of detention, unfair trials and lack of due process, and the occurrence of torture on a large scale.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that the Government of Bahrain and the international community press for the immediate release of Hassan Matooq and all political prisoners, who have paid the price for their demand for legitimate rights and were victims of the ferocious crackdown which was the response of the regime to the peaceful protests. BCHR calls the international community to take urgent action to guarantee justice for the victims who have been suffering for months, in light of the vast amount of information on human rights violations in Bahrain.

Flickr Photo Album of Hasan Matooq
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