Bahraini Nurse Released from Prison
April 7, 2014
Following a lengthy ordeal that began with his arrest in March 2011, Bahraini nurse and amateur photographer Hassan Salman Matooq was released from Jaw central prison in Manama on March 23, 2014, after serving his three-year sentence in its entirety.
During the uprising in Bahrain in February and March 2011, Mr. Matooq had taken part in peaceful demonstrations at the GCC (Pearl) Roundabout. Following a violent crackdown by the Bahraini government, Mr. Matooq was arrested on March 24, 2011, while working the night shift in the emergency department of Manama’s largest public hospital. Charged with participating in rallies without permission, gathering with more than five people without authorization, fabricating photos of the wounded, and broadcasting false news and fabricated photos about Bahrain to distort its reputation, Mr. Matooq was convicted and sentenced on all counts by Bahrain’s National Safety Court (a military court). Subsequently, the verdict was upheld after two appeals—one before a military court of appeals in June 2011 and the other before the civilian Court of Cassation in November 2011. During pretrial detention, Mr. Matooq reportedly suffered torture and ill-treatment, including kicking, beating, deprivation of sleep, and verbal abuse to coerce him into signing a false confession that was then used by the prosecution to convict him.
Mr. Matooq’s trial, before the National Safety Court (a military court established under King al-Khalifa’s Royal Decree 18/2011 in response to the 2011 uprisings), failed to comport with international fair trial standards in numerous ways. Following widespread international criticism of the Bahraini government’s handling of the early 2011 protests and the trials that followed, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) was established on June 29, 2011, by the King of Bahrain. Comprised of five international and well-respected judicial and human rights experts, the BICI’s stated purpose was to investigate abuses committed during the February-March protests in Bahrain and other abuses in the following months. In late 2011 the BICI issued a report that called for the sentences and verdicts issued by the National Safety Court to be reviewed by Bahrain’s civilian courts. It specifically highlighted National Safety Court sentences against people not accused of practicing or inciting violence, including Mr. Matooq. In December 2012, the public prosecutor ordered that all charges related to the right to freedom of expression be dropped. However, this order was not widely implemented, and many of the people whose charges related to freedom of expression remained in prison and were forced to finish out their sentences. Additionally, the BICI’s report recommended that the government of Bahrain independently and impartially investigate allegations of torture in accordance with the standards set out in the United Nations’ Istanbul Protocol. To the best of our knowledge, no investigation meeting the BICI’s criteria of impartiality and independence to date has been made into Mr. Matooq’s allegations that he was tortured while in detention.