Last updated: 31 August, 2014

Bahrain upholds 10 year jail term for journalist

Sunni-ruled Bahrain upheld a 10-year jail term for a photojournalist on Sunday and detained a human rights activist, as it presses a crackdown on Shiites over a 2011 uprising.

The tiny but strategic kingdom, just across the Gulf from Iran and home base for the US Fifth Fleet, remains deeply divided three years since authorities crushed the rebellion with Saudi-led military backing.

But persistent protests still spark clashes with police and dozens of Shiites have faced trial over their role in the uprising, while authorities have increased penalties for those convicted of violence.

Bahrain’s appeals court decided Sunday to uphold a jail term handed down to award-winning photojournalist Ahmed Humaidan despite appeals by rights group for his release.

Rights watchdogs say Humaidan was merely covering the Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests that erupted among the Shiite majority in the Sunni minority-ruled kingdom.

“Throwing photographers in jail isn’t going to keep either the protests or the accounts of what happens in Bahrain out of the world’s sight,” Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch said in June.

Humaidan, 25, was put on trial in February along with 29 other Shiites and accused of attacking a police station with Molotov cocktails and improvised explosives.

Authorities, meanwhile, have arrested Maryam al-Khawaja after she flew into Bahrain to visit her jailed father, leading activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, his lawyer said.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, jailed for life for plotting to overthrow the monarchy, staged a 110-day hunger strike in 2012 in protest against his imprisonment and is now on hunger strike again, lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi told AFP.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch describe Khawaja, 54, as a “prisoner of conscience”.

He is among seven defendants who have been handed down lengthy jail sentences for their role in the 2011 protests.

Khawaja’s daughter is co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, which has offices in Copenhagen and Beirut, and she had been hoping to visit him in jail when she was arrested and “stripped of her Bahraini nationality”, Jishi said.

Maryam, like her father, also holds Danish citizenship.

Authorities finally granted Maryam a visa but accused her of “attacking policewomen” at the airport and ordered her held for seven days pending an investigation, Jishi said.

He said that Khawaja began his hunger strike on August 25 but that he was “stable even though he suffered from hypotension two days ago”.

Khawaja has been seen by a doctor “17 times” in five days, the official BNA news agency said, quoting the interior ministry’s Ombudsman Office.

BNA said Khawaja vowed to pursue his hunger strike until his release, in a letter to prison authorities.

Also on Sunday, an appeals court upheld the death sentence against a Shiite man convicted of murdering a policeman during protests last year and life terms for six co-defendants.

In another case, five-year jail terms for five others accused of plotting attacks during last year’s Formula One race were also upheld.

The International Federation for Human Rights says at least 89 people have been killed in Bahrain since the uprising began in February 2011.