The Bahrain Press Association identified 49 violations of media freedom and freedom of speech in Bahrain in 2021. Since the February 2011 uprisings till December 2021, there have been about 1755 verified incidents of infringement of freedom of speech, the Association reported.
The Association said that the phrase “You only see what we see” expresses the state’s policy of requiring individuals to see and interact with diverse realities via the state’s lens and under its vision. As a result, any departure or resistance to the state’s vision, programmes, or judgments is considered a crime. The state’s reactions to Bahrainis who did not explicitly embrace its policies accounted for half of the breaches of the right in 2021 (26 incidents).
All state policies, priorities, perceptions, and procedures, according to the Chairman of the Bahrain Press Association, Adel Marzooq, have become immune to criticism due to an integrated structure of laws and harsh penalties against journalists, politicians, human rights defenders, and civil society activists who hold opposing views.
“What is being established in Bahrain is an integrated industry for a state with one colour, one understanding and one direction that aims to glorify the state and its representing individuals, institutions and policies,” Marzooq said further. “What is surprising is that the state colors its severe policies, backed by strict sanctions, with international propaganda that promotes and markets Bahrain as a model state committed to a culture and policy of tolerance, openness and rejection of extremism.”
According to the Association’s annual monitoring, infractions were primarily about calling people for questioning by the police and the public prosecution for the eleventh year in a row. 31 Bahrainis were summoned for expressing their views on social media and other platforms. Furthermore, the Association has recorded six arrests, seven legal processes, and four additional cases of other violations.
The results in this report show a 50 per cent drop from the data in the 2020 report, which showed 111 infringements that the Bahrain Press Association reported. The Bahrain Press Association thinks that this considerable decline is attributable to a culture of citizen self-censorship that has grown among Bahrainis in recent years and the legal machinery that sues journalists, human rights advocates, and campaigners on social media.
Arbitrary actions taken by the Bahraini government have built high walls around free speech and set clear red lines around what should not be spoken. As a result, persons with independent or dissident viewpoints have resorted to using cautious and carefully selected language that keeps them away from the algorithms employed by the Cybercrime Directorate to identify its targets to escape arbitrary accusations.
Infringements have diminished due to fewer critical voices and a restricted desire to participate in public problems. Wifaq, the Islamic Nationalist Association’s leaders, are only one example. They formerly led the country’s most prominent political party, but now they have no choice but to accept the crackdown’s new reality. They have not expressed their ideas regarding current issues on the Internet since the Association’s dissolution in 2016.
The fact that the Parliament enacted a decree forbidding members of Parliament (MPs) from “criticizing, blaming, or condemning” the administration in 2021 was significant. The regulation is another step toward making criticizing the government, its agencies, and people an expensive endeavour.
The Bahrain Press Association laments the country’s precipitous deterioration in media freedom and freedom of speech. Meanwhile, it continues to urge the government to change their stance and take a more reconciliatory strategy to help the nation recover from the 2011 catastrophe. Despite the positive image the Bahraini government has managed to project via the Alternative Penal Code, those convicted in cases involving freedom of expression—particularly opposition political leaders, journalists, and civil society activists—continue to be denied justice.
Resolving these concerns will help the nation get back on track. As a result, the Bahrain Press Association asks Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa’s government to take a strong step to reverse the decline in media freedoms that has been ongoing since 2011.
The Bahrain Press Association decries the government’s systematic and widespread targeting of journalists, bloggers, and other public figures. The Association urges the US, the UK, the UN, and other international organizations and entities concerned with safeguarding freedom of speech, press, and media to put immediate pressure on the Bahraini government to:
• Release all photographers, media workers, and activists jailed for covering demonstrations or exercising their right to freedom of thought and expression immediately and unconditionally.
• Put an end to arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, and court trials on allegations of “inciting regime hate,” “misusing social media,” and anything else that inhibits freedom of speech.
• Protecting media and press freedoms and evaluating the Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security Administration’s work goals, particularly in terms of scope of activity.
• End the authority’s monopoly on television, radio, and print media, and allow opposing voices to be heard in the media, including reauthorizing Al-publishing. Wasat’s
• Urge the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression of the United Nations to visit Bahrain immediately.