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Ahmed Ismail Hassan: A shuttered case of impunity

In 2012, Bahraini videographer and journalist Ahmed Ismail Hassan was fatally shot by Bahraini government authorities. Hassan had documented protests during the Bahrain uprising, and received repeated threats from Bahraini security for his work. To date, Hassan’s case remains classified as “pending investigation”.

Ahmed Ismail Hassan was 22-years-old when he was fatally shot by Bahraini government authorities. Hassan was a videographer and journalist who often covered protests, marches and rallies across Bahrain. While documenting a protest south of Manama, he was shot by security forces, and ultimately died from his wound later that day.

Hassan worked to document demonstrations across Bahrain since pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on 14 February 2011. Hassan frequently uploaded his images and video footage to YouTube, where regional media outlets used his work to report on the mass protests and governmental repression in Bahrain. Because of his reporting, and the Bahraini government's systematic targeting of journalists, Hassan had been previously targeted and arrested by security forces, and repeatedly received threats against him.

On 31 March 2012 there was a gathering in Salmabad, Bahrain, southwest of the capital, Manama, where demonstrators were protesting the Formula One Grand Prix. Bahraini security forces have consistently attacked and violated the rights of protesters, and Hassan attended in order to report on the demonstration as well as document abuses. After riot police dispersed the protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, armed men accompanied by security forces fired live ammunition at the demonstrators. Hassan was among those who were shot by the riot police, and a bullet severed a major artery in his upper thigh. Witnesses reported that Hassan was specifically targeted because he was carrying a video camera. Hassan sought treatment at a private hospital, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Officers from the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) arrived at the hospital and interrogated his family while riot police surrounded the hospital. Hassan was later transferred to the main governmental medical facility, Salmaniya Medical Complex, where he died from the gunshot wound.

Now, more than five years after his death, no perpetrator has yet been identified in the killing of Ahmed Ismail Hassan and no criminal charges have ever been filed. While officials at the United Nations have called for an investigation into the events, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that the judicial inquiry remains “unresolved.”

Key Actors

Ahmed Ismail Hassan A 22-year-old civilian photo journalist who documented Bahraini protests and demonstrations during 2011 before being fatally shot in 2012.

Ismail Moussa Ahmed Ismail Hassan’s father and a recent retiree. He used his son’s equipment to continue to document the Bahraini government’s abuses against protesters after his son’s death.

Ministry of Interior (MOI) The MoI is the government body in charge of national security, public safety, and law enforcement. The MoI is the government body most involved in Bahrain’s systematic and widespread abuse of human rights. After Hassan’s death, the MoI issued a public statement claiming the cause of death was a gunshot wound from a civilian vehicle.

Information Affairs Authority (IAA) The IAA is the government body responsible for managing state media, including the Bahrain News Agency and the Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation. The IAA regulates the press and all publications and acts as the official news medium for the government. After Hassan’s death, it issued a statement declaring his death was a murder and called for an official investigation.

Timeline of Events

30 March 2012
The Protest
  • Ahmed films security forces entering Salmabad (video shot in September 2011)

Demonstrators gathered in Salmabad, a village southwest of Manama, at approximately 11:30 PM. Security forces arrived in designated security vehicles and unmarked cars. Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters. The demonstrators fled the area and attempted to escape into nearby houses and neighborhoods. Unidentified assailants in a Toyota Land Cruiser fired live ammunition at the protesters. Ahmed Ismail Hassan, who had been filming the protest, was shot in the hip as he tried to escape. Eye witnesses stated that he was shot by a laser guided weapon from the vehicle.

31 March 2012
Seeking Help

Protesters carried Hassan to a nearby bystander’s house and called doctors and hospitals. Realising that the entrance to the hospital in Salmaniya was surrounded by military checkpoints and that officers would arrest and interrogate any injured protesters, the protesters drove Hassan to the private International Hospital. However, this facility lacked proper emergency equipment. Civilian clothed CID officers arrived at the Bahrain International Hospital and began interrogating Hassan’s family regarding his activities and who had brought him to the hospital. Riot police surrounded the hospital while other officials took Hassan to Salmaniya Hospital. Hassan died of his injuries at 4:00 AM.

The Uncertified Bullet
After he was shot, Ahmed's camera was recovered bearing his blood.

Ahmed’s family is notified of his death. The medical examiner released a report listing the cause of death as a gunshot wound, yet his death certificate made no mention of a bullet. Without referencing the presence of a bullet in Hassan’s death certificate, police refuse to open an investigation into his death. Officials also refused to release the body for burial, despite religious customs which dictate a funeral is held as soon as possible after death. For several weeks after Hassan’s death, his family worked to make sure his death certificate included a reference to the gunshot wound that caused his death.

6 April 2012
Calls for Investigation
A map of the shooting of Ahmed Ismail Hassan, with his position and that of the Land Cruiser from where the fatal shot war fired.

Following Hassan’s death, officials at the United Nations called for an investigation into his killing. Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova said, “The basic human right of freedom of expression and the freedom of journalists and citizen journalists to cover events are essential for any society that wants to uphold the principles of democracy and rule of law. I welcome reports that the authorities intend to launch an inquiry into this serious event and trust that the culprits will be brought to justice.”

13 April 2012
The Funeral
Funeral procession of martyr Ahmed Ismail Hassan.

After being postponed for nearly two weeks, Hassan’s family held his funeral in his hometown of Salmabad. The procession included hundreds of protesters who marched down the streets, chanting for justice. Security forces attacked the funeral procession with tear gas and birdshot, wounding many protesters, including a 15-year-old boy who was hospitalized with a chest injury.

Mid 2012
The Interrogations

Authorities questioned witnesses about Hassan’s case. Witnesses later state that the interrogations focused on the location of the camera that Hassan had been using to film demonstrations, rather than the assailants who murdered Hassan.

Late 2012
Smoke and Mirrors

The Bahraini Ministry of Interior issued a statement claiming that the preliminary police investigation discovered that the "gunman was driving a civilian vehicle." The MoI confirmed that Hassan’s death was due to an injury in the top of his right thigh, and stated that the "medical examiner attributes death of Ahmed Ismael to a single bullet wound. Public prosecution investigation continues."

September 2013
Continued Harassment

During an operation to “investigate illegal gatherings", police detained Hassan’s father for 15 days after he held a picture of his son while documenting protests with a camera.

7 October 2016
Case Unresolved

UNESCO released a report by the Director-General to the intergovernmental council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) stating that the status of the judicial inquiry into Hassan’s case was still considered unresolved, more specifically classified as “pending investigation.” The government maintains that the case remains open, yet there have been no recent indication that any efforts have been made to continue or conclude the inquiry.

What IFEX Members are doing

Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has previously published articles about, issued statements on, and condemned the killing of Ahmed Ismail Hassan. RSF has also sent a letter to the former Secretary of Defense of the United States, Chuck Hagel, asking him to address the issue of freedom of information in Bahrain with his “Bahraini interlocutors.” The letter directly addresses Ahmed's unjust death and calls for Hagel's sincere attention to the issue.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published articles on the case in conjunction with author Elizabeth Dickinson. Dickinson is a CPJ guest blogger and author of the book Who Shot Ahmed?, a detailed account of Ahmed Ismail Hassan's death and his family's quest for justice.

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) has also published articles about Ahmed's case. In its address on the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain, ADHRB raised Ahmed's case in relation to freedom and safety of press and journalists. ADHRB posted a five-year update on the case, which can be found here.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has previously collaborated with organizations such as RSF and CPJ in mentioning and reporting on Ahmed's case. Their posts continue IFEX's efforts to spread awareness of the dangers of impunity.

More Resources & Information

A tide of repression: country profile of the Kingdom of Bahrain

Middle East & North Africa 20 September 2017

In the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain, the country has seen harsher punishments and retaliations against human rights defenders while countries such as the UK and USA have become less inclined to condemn the abuses.

Six years on: Bahrain's human rights crisis deepens

Middle East & North Africa Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) 13 February 2017

Six years ago today began the largest protest movement in Bahrain’s history. Six years on, the situation has regrettably grown increasingly worse.

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