(Updated - 7 August 2015 12:00 AM)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) express grave concern about the new threats against the freedom of press that have been created by suspending the only independent newsletter in the country; "Al-Wasat" newspaper, and the harassment of journalists over opinion articles.
On 06 August 2015, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) announced that it has temporarily suspended Al-Wasat newspaper until further notice. IAA claimed that the reason behind suspension is “due to [the newspaper] violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”
Before this, and on 03 August 2015, the Information Affairs Minister Isa Abdulrahman Al- Hammadistated that the Information Ministry “would not hesitate to take the necessary legal measures to prevent the publication of false or misleading information in the various media, stressing that the ministry does communicate with media companies and establishments that disseminate inexact and erroneous information or reports about the Kingdom.”
Following the abovementioned statement, Bahrain’s Information Affairs Authority sent a warning to Al-Wasat newspaper for publishing “false information”; a warning concerning an article by Hani Al-Fardan published on 1 August 2015 and entitled: "And They Will Never Approve of You". In it, the writer talked about persons in the social media who try to question and accuse opposition members with treason. The warning was issued despite the fact that this article was an opinion piece and the writer did not refer to names of actual people, but talked about the issue in general.
The Al-Wasat newspaper has previously been harassed by the Government of Bahrain concerning its publications; in June 2015, a case was filed against Hani Al-Fardan, the same author mentioned above, and Al-Wasat Editor-in-Chief, Mansoor AlJamri, by a Member of the Parliament who accused them of defamation, on background of an article that referred to the MP’s meetings with armed groups in Syria and his support to funding campaigns in Bahrain to support those groups. The next hearing of the case has been scheduled for September 2015. In August 2014, Al-Wasat newspaper experienced another case against it in the form of a defamation complaint filed at the public prosecution. This was filed by the Baluch family in Bahrain against the author, Mohamed Al-Salman, who had written an article about the employment of foreign forces of Baluchistan origins. The Baluch family’s complaint stated that the article used ‘racist terms’ to describe the family. Consequently, Al-Wasat had to remove the article in question from its website. In addition Al-Wasat newspaper was briefly suspended in 2011, and three of its top editors were put on trial and forced to leave their jobs at the newspaper.
Al-Wasat is considered the only independent newspaper in Bahrain that publishes the news of opposition, protests, and Shia events. Therefore, we believe that these cases against Al-Wasat are directly and obviously targeting the freedom of press.
Based on the above, BCHR urges the Government of Bahrain to:
- To immediately cancel the decision to suspend Al-Wasat newspaper and allow its publication.
- To stop the continuous targeting of journalists and writers and to provide a healthy platform for them to do their duty to the fullest, without pressure or intimidation.
- To halt the use of the judiciary system as a tool to crack down on journalists, to suppress freedom of opinion and expression. To stop control on the media through publishing laws which restrict freedoms.
- Stop interfering with the content of national and international media
- Show full respect for the freedom of the press, and repeal the laws that criminalize the peaceful exercise to the right to freedom of expression, in line with Bahrain’s obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.