On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2021, the Bahrain Press Association (BPA) publishes its eleventh annual report titled, “Bahrain 2020: Freedom in Quarantine.”
The report’s title, “Bahrain 2020: Freedom in Quarantine,” comes as an indication of the silencing imposed on Bahraini voices by the state through its security and judicial apparatus.
During the year 2020, the BPA documented 111 infringements of media freedoms and freedom of expression in both the public and virtual spheres in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Thus, the number of documented acts of infringement since the February 2011 uprisings until December 2020 rose to about 1,706 violations.
The head of the Bahrain Press Association, Adel Marzooq, pointed out that what we see today is the outcome of policies hostile to freedom of opinion and expression in the country, whereby the state imposes a tight lockdown on journalists, political activists, and human rights defenders who do not share the government’s opinion or direct any criticism to the government.
Through the Anti-Cybercrime Directorate of the Ministry of Interior, he also said that the state is pursuing citizens and locking down their ideas and opinions. This is not limited to local issues that are a subject of discussion and controversy in any society but also includes regional and international issues as well.
“Silencing the voices of a large segment of citizens opposes the image the state is constantly projecting of its adoption of the policy of tolerance, openness and rejecting extremism,” Marzooq added.
According to the annual monitoring carried out by the Association for the tenth year in a row, violations this year included 51 judicial procedures or referrals to the Public Prosecution, 25 arrests and 12 cases of summoning for interrogation, in addition to 23 cases of different forms of violation, including threats, blocking websites, layoffs, and introducing legislation restricting freedom of speech.
The majority of these infringements came in response to nationals and residents’ opinions on social media platforms, whether domestic or regional issues.
On top of pretexts the Anti-Cybercrime Directorate used to summon cyber-activists for interrogation and to subject them to trials was “misusing social media.”
This repeated, loose accusation may include criticizing the performance of state officials or the work of ministries or commenting on regional events.
It also includes playing with national currency notes, criticizing social phenomena or historical publishing information contrary to the official narrative.
This happens while the government shows indifference to the local criticism and the regional and international periodic reports that place the country in late ranks in the Index of media and Internet freedoms.
The BPA regrets the apparent deterioration of press freedom and freedom of expression. Such conditions have led Bahrain to fall behind in all international indicators concerned with freedom of the press.
The Association calls on the Bahraini government to take a bold decision to harness the Cybercrime Directorate and reduce its penetration into the public space.
It is crucially important to put the Directorate back on its original track for which it was created as its current practices are defaming the Bahraini state.
The Bahrain Press Association condemns the government’s systematic and widespread behaviour of targeting journalists, bloggers and people of opinion.
The Association calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and all international organizations and bodies concerned with defending the freedom of opinion and expression, press and media freedoms to exert urgent pressure on the Bahraini government to:
Immediately and unconditionally release all photographers, media professionals, and activists detained for practising their work in covering protests or exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Stop arbitrary prosecutions and arrests and judicial trials on charges of “inciting hatred of the regime,” “misusing social media,” “insulting a figure or foreign/sister country,” “offending the Divine Self,” and all that restricts freedom of expression.
Secure freedoms of media and the press and reconsidering the work priorities of the Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security Administration, especially with regard to scope of its work.
Put an end to the authority’s monopoly of the television, radio and print media, and enabling the voice of opposition in the media—including reauthorizing the publication of Al-Wasat.
Call on the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression to schedule an urgent visit to Bahrain.