Bahrain: Human rights defender arrested and Bahrain’s only Independent newspaper Al-Wasat suspended by authorities

Human rights in Bahrain continue to be seriously violated. In the past number of days an independent newspaper has been suspended and a prominent human rights defender arrested.

At approximately 9am on 8 August 2015 human rights defender Dr. Maitham Al Salman, Head of the Religious Freedom Unit of Bahrain Human Rights Observatory was arrested upon his arrival at Bahrain airport and remains in detention. He was travelling home from a meeting on hate speech organised by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is a prominent human rights activist who is well known for his engagement with various international mechanisms including the UN. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that his arrest is a form of reprisal for such engagement and a direct result of his human rights work.

On 6 August 2015, the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) suspended the newspaper Al-Wasat, the only independent newspaper in the country. The newspaper reports on various issues including on protests and  human rights events and is known for its balanced journalism. Its suspension is a flagrant violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The IAA claims that the decision to indefinitely suspend the paper is due to “violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the Kingdom’s relationship with other countries.”

On 03 August the Information Ministry released a statement, which said that it would “not hesitate to take necessary legal measures to stop the publication of false or misleading information.” Following this statement Al-Wasat received a warning from the authorities relating to an opinion piece by Hani Al-Farden published on 01 August called “And they will never approve of you”, in which he wrote about opposition members being accused with treason on social media.

Authorities have previously targeted Al-Wasat in an attempt to curtail freedom of the press. In June 2015, a defamation case was brought by a Member of Parliament against Hani Al-Farden and the Editor in Chief Mansoor Al-Jamri, following an article which he wrote about meetings with, and support for Syrian, armed groups by members of parliament.  It is scheduled for hearing in September 2015. In August 2014 another defamation case was taken against the paper. It had also been briefly suspended in 2011 and three of its editors were put on trial and forced to leave their jobs at the newspaper.

The suspension of Al-Wasat and arrest of Dr. Maitham Al Salman have taken place against a background of continuous curtailments of the right to freedom of speech and expression by the authorities. Journalists, media workers and human rights defenders are frequently targeted for expressing their opinions, objectively reporting on events and for their work in promoting and protecting human rights. The GHCR expresses serious concern over these restrictions and violations of fundamental rights.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Bahrain to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally remove the suspension against Al-Wasat;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr. Maitham Al Salman;
  3. Ensure that journalists, media workers and all human rights defenders in Bahrain are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

(Source / 09.08.2015)

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