3 May 2017 – Press freedoms continue to diminish in Bahrain. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy marks World Press Freedom Day with a review of the challenges facing Bahrain’s journalists. Today celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, raises awareness on the attacks on media independence and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2017 relegates Bahrain’s position further down the ranks, casting light on the continued deterioration of human rights in the country. At 164 out of 180 countries, Bahrain is among the worst twenty abusers of press freedoms globally.
According to the report, eight journalists and six netizens continue to remain imprisoned in Bahrain. Among those is prominent human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab. Rajab has been in detention, mostly solitary, since his initial arrest on 13 June 2016. He has been subjected to continued judicial harassment and currently faces up to 17 years’ imprisonment in two cases related to interviews given to media outlets and comments made on Twitter. He has also been further prosecuted for “spreading false news” after writing a letter from his jail cell to the New York Times, and was questioned in December 2016 after another letter appeared in Le Monde.
Alwasat, established in 2002, is the only newspaper in Bahrain that is financially and editorially independent from the state. It has been the subject of repeated acts of repression including the partial suspension of its digital newspaper for two days in January 2017. Bahrain’s Ministry of Information Affairs alleged that Alwasat had been ‘inciting spirit of division and harming national unity,’ but provided no further basis for this accusation.
Since 2016, Bahraini journalists working for international media networks have been arbitrarily denied accreditation, preventing them from reporting Bahrain events to the media. Among them is Nazeeha Saeed, correspondent for France24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya. Saeed applied to renew her foreign media work permit in March 2016, in accordance with the Bahraini press law. But the Ministry of Information Affairs arbitrarily rejected Saeed’s license renewal without providing legal grounds. Saeed continued to report and was charged in July 2016 for practising journalism without a license.
The Government of Bahrain has also used the deprivation of nationality as a form of reprisal against citizens who act in defiance of state imposed laws. Nationality is often arbitrarily and unfairly stripped away from citizens who exercise their freedom of speech, oppose government policies or who openly advocate against a ruling monarchy or regime. BIRD has recorded over 400 incidents of denaturalisation to date. Among those stripped of citizenship are journalists, photojournalists, bloggers and human rights defenders.
Many of these issues were raised by BIRD in our joint-submission with Article 19 to the Universal Periodic Review. We found that little has been done to address freedom of expression issues, which have progressively worsened since 2012, the year of the last UPR.
On World Press Freedom Day, we celebrate Bahrain’s brave journalists and condemn the continued repression and reprisals facing those journalists. We call on the Government of Bahrain to respect press freedoms, and to extend an open invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression and opinion.