The Bahrain Press Association documented 49 infringements during 2021 on media freedoms and freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain. Half of these infringements relate to Internet issues.
A report issued by the Citizen Lab affiliated with the University of Toronto in Canada confirmed that the Bahraini government hacked phones of Bahraini journalists and photographers abroad through a particular iPhone program produced by the Israeli technology group NSO.
According to the annual report conducted by the Bahrain Press Association, most of the documented cases focused on investigation summons in police stations and the Public Prosecution for citizens who expressed their opinions using various means of expression, especially social media, with a total of 31 summonses.
The association also documented 6 arrests, 7 judicial procedures, and 4 cases of various violations.
The most prominent charges brought against those questioned, arrested, or convicted in courts or through administrative procedures were “criticizing the normalization of relations between Bahrain and Israel”, “questioning the efforts of the national team to combat the coronavirus”, “insulting the judiciary”, “criticizing the Ministry of Interior” and “violating the public morals”.
The mentioned numbers represent a decrease of about half compared to the numbers recorded in the previous year 2020, which amounted to 111 violations and the previous years.
According to the association’s analysis, this is due to the self-censorship created by the harsh repression measures in the past years.
Cases of violations have decreased because the expression of critical and daring opinions has decreased, and the number of people involved in public debates has decreased significantly.
For instance, the National Islamic Al-Wefaq Association leaders refrained from expressing any public opinions about public affairs on the Internet since the association dissolved in 2016.
They used to lead the country’s most prominent political association, but they are now bound to deal with the new reality created by the crackdown.
It was remarkable during this year that the House of Representatives passed a decree prohibiting members of the House of Representatives themselves from “criticizing, blaming or accusing” the government, a step that falls in the context of many other steps that made criticizing the government, its bodies, and those in charge of it very costly, if not impossible.
The Bahrain Press Association regrets the severe decline the country has reached in terms of media freedoms and freedom of opinion and expression. It urges the authorities to review their position and adopt a new approach that will bring the country out of the tensions created by the 2011 crisis.
Despite the positive image achieved by the Bahraini government in the alternative sanctions project, those convicted in cases related to freedom of opinion and expression, especially opposition political leaders, journalists and civil society activists, are still excluded from this conditional release.
In addition, the state still refuses to do justice to journalists whose nationalities were revoked during 2011, contrary to the provisions of the constitution and the law. Resolving these issues will put the country on the right track.
The Bahrain Press Association urged the government of Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to take a bold decision to stop the deterioration in media freedoms that has continued since 2011.