Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it is worried by the terrorism charges brought against Mahmood Al Jazeeri, a journalist with the independent daily newspaper Al Wasat, who has been held for the past 12 days
Al Wasat’s parliamentary correspondent, Jazeeri has been formally charged with supporting terrorist activities funded by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Arrested during a raid on his home on the morning of 28 December, when electronic equipment was seized, he is one of 12 suspects who are charged in this case. His last article, published the day before his arrest, referred to a controversial bill before the Shura Council, the Bahraini parliament’s upper house, providing for the confiscation of state housing from members of a family whose head has been stripped of his nationality.
RSF is concerned about the nature of the charges and calls for Jazeeri’s immediate and unconditional release.
“Journalists cannot be treated as terrorists just for criticizing the government in their reporting,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the RSF’s Middle East desk. “Security grounds cannot justify violations of freedom of information. RSF calls for the release of all journalists who are unjustly detained in Bahrain.”
Jazeeri was also officially accused on state TV of seeking to overthrow the government, inciting hatred, having contacts with a foreign country and supporting the unauthorized Al Wafaa movement and the 14 February Coalition, which has been organizing peaceful demonstrations since 2011.
An Al Wasat source told RSF that Jazeeri has not been a member of any political movement since joining the newspaper in 2012.
Wafaa Marhoon, Jazeeri’s lawyer, told Al Wasat four days after his arrest that the authorities had yet to produce any evidence against him. When contacted by RSF, she stressed the importance of the political context and the vagueness of Bahrain’s terrorism legislation, which makes it hard to defend anyone accused of terrorism.
If convicted, Jazeeri is facing the possibility of a life sentence and being stripped of his nationality.
This is not Al Wasat’s first run-in with the authorities. It has been closed arbitrarily several times, including last August, when it was closed for several days for threatening “national unity” and “Bahrain’s relations with other countries.” The newspaper’s founder, Karim Fakhrawi, died in unclear circumstances in police detention in 2011.
At least 13 professional and citizen-journalists are currently detained in Bahrain, which is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.