Khalid Ibrahim Deputy Director, Gulf Centre for Human Rights

17 Feb 2012

Since the peaceful protests began on 14 February of last year and the Bahraini government continues targeting journalists with assault, detention, torture and murder sometimes, to restrict largely their freedom to access information and to obstruct coverage of important events that include the protests that taking place daily in the villages of Bahrain.

All what we have mentioned above is part of a systematic campaign by the authorities to restrict freedom of press and eliminate it completely. It should be noted that there is no free press in Bahrain since all newspapers are guided or owned in one form or another by the state, except Al-Wasat which is the only independent newspaper and this independence brought to its employees many problems.

On Tuesday, November 8, 2011 the High Criminal Court in Manama, issued a guilty verdict against four journalists working in Al-Wasat newspaper, Mansoor Al-Jamri, Editor-in-Chief, Walid Noueihed, managing editor, Aqeel Mirza, head of local news, and Ali Al-Sherify, senior editor and sentenced the four editors of the only independent daily to a fine of 1000 Bahrain Dinars each ($US 2650) for allegedly publishing false in March 2011.

No doubt the targeting of independent journalist Reem Khalifa, Mansoor Al-Jamri's wife, is not a coincidence. She is still facing a trial before the Lower Criminal Court in Manama charged with defamation and physical assault, a trumped-up charges, which are part of a smear campaign against independent journalists and public personalities in Bahrain who covered government crackdown on protesters in February 2011.

The charges came from an assault of pro-government supporters on Reem Khalifa, which took place in Ramada Hotel in Manama on July 14, 2011. Reem Khalifa was leaving a press briefing organized by the Irish delegation which was interrupted by pro-government supporters. I was there and I saw for myself how they assaulted her and how she faced them with courage. I have testified at The Public Prosecutor’s Office, but the politicized judiciary promoted the lawsuit brought by supporters of the government against journalist Reem Khalifa and ignored her complaint and the complaint of her husband, who was also present during the attack.

In order to distract her from performing her journalism duties, the trial is still going on and next hearing will be held on February 23, 2012, without any effort by the authorities to drop the false charges against a journalist who exposed to a pre-planned assault that was witnessed by all.

Mazen Mahdi, often endured over and over again during his coverage, of the peaceful demonstrations organized by citizens in the different villages, on 22 May, 2011 and 7, 15, and 23 December, 2011 and 03 January, 2012, beating, yelling, and humiliation by the security forces whereby his rights as a journalist and as a citizen has been violated.

These attacks carried out at police stations and the surrounding areas, at the sight and hearing of the officers in charge, where he was taken inside, handcuffed and eye banded and assaulted in spite of wearing always a special vest marked visibly with the word "press ". The police stations, according to the law of the land, has a main duty to protect the citizens, but did not do so and failed to protect an independent and courageous journalist who only wants to deliver the truth to the world.

The pattern of attacks on independent journalists by the security forces continued when journalist Hamad Mohammed Iqbal, Reuters cameraman has been targeted twice during his coverage of peaceful protests. On 8 September, 2011, Hamad Iqbal suffered a minor injury in the neck during an attack by security forces on a number of demonstrators and on 15 December, 2011, while covering a demonstration organized by 50 citizens, has been attacked with tear gas in spite of wearing a jacket which shows clearly that he is a journalist.

When we talk about torture of journalists in Bahrain, we should always remember that two journalists have been killed after they spent a week in police custody and they are publisher Karim Fakhrawy founder and board member of Al- Wasat newspaper, who died on April 12 2011and the blogger Zakaria Al-Esheiry who died on April 9 / April 2011. The authorities did not allow any independent investigation to find out the real reasons that led to their deaths in prison despite the fact that they were healthy before their arrest.

Bahrain correspondent of France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo International, Nazeeha Saeed, this peaceful journalist exposed, blindfolded, to a brutal and inhuman torture at the hands of a woman police officer and four policewomen in Riffa police station after illegally arrested on 22 May 2011.She found, when the blindfold fell off her eyes due to severe torture, that the policemen officers were there observing the scene very coldly.

And during the torture that included kicking, punching, slapping, hitting with a plastic pipe, she was accused of lying in her reports and even if these reports are correct, they are offensive to the country's reputation.She also accused of dealing with external media channels and forced to sign a confession that she was never allowed to read and then she was released. Nazeeha Saeed is still suffers a psychological pain due to this nightmare and although the Ministry of Interior, repeatedly promised to take actions, the offenders have not been punished at all.

The authorities in Bahrain extended this repression campaign to include users of the new social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps the most prominent example in this area is the questioning of Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights twice, on April 11, and August19, 2011, in relation to what he writes on his personal account in Twitter. He was allegedly accused of a series of charges that include ""deliberately posting sensational propaganda and false information on his social networking site likely to disrupt public order, spark fear among people, damage public interests and defame authorities."

To stand on your own raising the victory sign in front of a convoy of police cars loaded with men and ammunitions, your only weapon is that you are peaceful, as we see in the picture above, is something unique in the history of protests and required a rare courage that really Zainab Al-Khawaja (@angryarabiya has it. She is the other prominent example, who remarkably succeeded in transforming her personal account on Twitter to bear some semblance to a daily newspaper, that led by headlines of current event, latest news on the protests and arrests, and in the mean time encouraging people to demand their human and civil rights. There is no doubt that these legitimate e-activities have made her several times, a target for the security forces, nevertheless she has shown phenomenal courage at all time.

Zainab Al-Khawaja was arrested while attending a peaceful demonstration in Manama on 15 December 2011 and released after five days. She has been accused of three allegedly charges of attacking a police officer, taking part in an illegal demonstration. and inciting subversion. She is waiting the trial. Blogger and activist Adbuljalil Al-Singace, now is on a hunger strike since Sunday January 29, 2012, protesting against the ill-treatment in Jaw prison. Abduljalil, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court on June 22, 2011, is suffering from various medical problems.

Blogger and activist Ali Abdulemam, owner of bahrainonline.org who was tried in absentia by the same court, sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, disappeared on March 15, 2011.The only crime committed by Ali Abdulemam and Abduljalil Al-Singace is their peaceful opposition to the government and putting endless efforts to exercise their freedom of expression.

In order to complete media blackout, the authorities in Bahrain has exercised all kinds of limitations and harassments against foreign journalists and on several occasions prevented them from entering Bahrain and if allowed them to enter the country, welcomed them by poison gases, as happened when the riot police launched on December 8, 2011, a teargas attack on the New York Times correspondent Nick Christoph @NickKristof and his accompanying photographer and damaged their equipments. According to some recent reports, Nick has not been granted a visa to be in Bahrain, on February 14, 2012, which marks the first anniversary of the start of the peaceful protests.

The on-going crackdown against journalists forced large number of them to flee the country and set up in July 2011, the London-based "Bahrain Press Association", which works to defend freedom of media and the press in Bahrain. Journalist Adel Marzouk, the Co-ordinator of the BPA, told me that more than 140 journalists in Bahrain have been targeted with arrest or imprisonment, torture or dismissal from work since the start of the protests on 14 February 2011.

The conclusion is that, there is no protection here to journalists but attacks that take many forms and there is no freedom of the press, but restrictions and harassment that having no limits in range or scope which requires solid solidarity with journalists in Bahrain. The journalists and press freedom in Bahrain are facing imminent danger, so the international community has to intervene immediately to stop all these gross violations.

Khalid Ibrahim Deputy Director Gulf Centre for Human Rights

khalid@gc4hr.org @khalidibrahim12

gc4hr.org