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Investigation: Bahrain Without a Free Press

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, journalists in Bahrain struggle as the authorities continue to arrest colleagues, block the issuance of newspapers and close websites.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom rankings, Bahrain ranked 168 globally, down two points from 2018 and 4 points from 2017.

According to statements issued by the Committee to Support Journalists, Bahraini authorities keep six journalists in prison on the background of vague charges that are not based on legal evidence.

Bahrain ranked fourth in the Middle East in terms of the number of imprisoned journalists.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights says that World Press Freedom Day comes as a conscious reminder that the Bahraini government must fulfil its pledges to press freedom.

The occasion is an opportunity to stand up for publications whose offices were shut down for practising their right to freedom of the press.

Since the start of the popular movement in Bahrain in 2011, journalists and media outlets have become a target for the authorities.

The Bahrain Press Association documented 1,706 attacks on media freedoms between 2011 and 2020, in addition to 111 violations, exclusively in the year 2020.

The confrontational relationship between the government and those in charge of the press continued at a time when Bahrain was considered one of the first Gulf countries that gave importance and space to the emergence and development of journalism.

Bahrain Center for Human Rights stressed that the attacks on the media sector arise from an unfair legal background.

Bahraini laws and legislations do not take into account the basic rights stipulated in international laws and legislations.

For instance, Law No. 47 of 2002 (Law on Organization of Press, Printing and Publishing) gives freedom in its theoretical rather than practical form.

It criminalizes “criticizing” the king, the government, or official institutions. In addition, it does not contain materials that pursue violators of the right to access information.

Furthermore, Law No. 60 of 2014 imposes significant restrictions on online journalists.

BCHR followed the government’s decision to transfer the draft amendment to the law “Regulating the Press, Printing and Publishing” to Parliament last month.

The amendment simplifies the authorities’ greater control over the media. It is a formal amendment that does not include any fundamental changes required by the media sector.

In a legal reading, the Center saw that the amendment contains many loopholes that allow the government to practice harassment and arrests of journalists.

The law formally abolished remand prison for journalists pending investigation, but they can be imprisoned under other laws in force in the country, foremost among which is the Terrorism Law.

Among these loopholes, the amendment stipulated that anyone seeking to operate a website or contribute to it must not be deprived of his civil or political rights.

This is what, according to the Center for Human Rights, deprives most members of civil and political societies in Bahrain of this right.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Center for Human Rights said that the event is a real opportunity for the media sector and the government alike to release all journalists and detained in Bahraini prisons, especially given the outbreak of the Coronavirus in prisons.

In addition, the Center demanded the abolition of overbroad laws that allow the authorities to violate freedom of expression under many excuses, calling for a fundamental and practical amendment of the laws to ensure the protection of journalists and their freedoms.

In turn, the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nidal Al-Salman, called on Bahrain to repeal laws that limit freedom of opinion and expression, forcing journalists to be confined into a bubble from which they cannot escape to perform their duties professionally.

“We also call for serious amendments not only aimed at the government’s media propaganda but at ensuring the protection of journalists and their freedoms in times of conflict,” said Al-Salman.

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