Bahrain: Bahrain: Freedom of the Press faces serious threat
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are under serious threat in Bahrain. Human rights defenders, journalists and online bloggers are targeted for legitimately reporting on issues and expressing their opinions and beliefs against a backdrop of increasing hostility towards any kind of dissent.
The trial of Bahraini human rights defender and award-winning journalist, Nazeeha Saeed, will begin on 16 January 2017. She is the Bahrain correspondent for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya. On 17 July 2016, she was summoned for interrogation and was charged with unlawfully working for the international media under Article 88 of Law 47/2002. This article prevents all Bahraini journalists, working for foreign news agencies, from freely conducting their work without first acquiring a license from the Ministry of the Information Affairs, which must be renewed annually. Nazeeha Saeed had applied for renewal of her license but her application was rejected without any basis. She faces a fine of up to 1000 Bahraini Dinars (USD$2650) if convicted.
This is not the first time Nazeeha Saeed has been targeted as a result of her work. In May 2011, she was detained while reporting on the protest movement. She was subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in detention. Despite identifying five of her torturers only one was prosecuted and subsequently acquitted. Furthermore a travel ban was arbitrarily placed on her in June 2016.
The Ministry of Information Affairs has also denied license renewals to other Bahrain-based reporters. These include Agence France-Presse photojournalist Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Associated Press photojournalist Hasan Jamali, Associated Press correspondent, Reem Khalifa and Reuters cameraman Aamer Mohammed. There are extensive restrictions in place on foreign media in Bahrain and over 100 journalists have been denied entry to the country since 2011.
On 28 December 2015, human rights defender and Al-Wasat journalist Mahmoud Abdul-Ridha Al-Jazeeri was subjected to an enforced disappearance during a raid on his home by security forces in plain clothes. His arrest came one day after he wrote an article reporting on the regular consultative (Shura) council’s session, during which an MP asked authorities to punish Bahrainis who had their citizenship revoked on political grounds by depriving them of government housing. He is charged with supporting terrorism, inciting hatred of the regime, having contacts with a foreign country, and seeking to overthrow the regime by joining Al-Wafa and the February 14 Youth Movement. If found guilty of these trumped up charges he faces the possibility of a life sentence and his citizenship being revoked. He has been subjected to ill-treatment in detention including being blindfolded and not being allowed to sit or sleep for almost three days.
The situation of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Bahrain is critical and the above cases are just some examples of the attempts by authorities to silence the voices of the people in Bahrain who bravely draw attention to political and social issues.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns the judicial harassment of Nazeeha Saeed and the enforced disappearance of Mahmoud Abdul-Ridha Al-Jazeeri, which it believes are directly related to their peaceful and legitimate work as journalists. It further condemns the restrictions placed on all media workers, which are clear attempts to stop international media coverage of the ongoing political and civil unrest in Bahrain and constitute flagrant violations of freedom of press and expression.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights urges the authorities in Bahrain to:
- Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Nazeeha Saeed;
- Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender and journalist Mahmoud Al-Jazeeri;
- Promote and protect Freedom of the Press;
- Guarantee in all circumstances that journalists, media workers and all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”