Press in Bahrain: Absence of opposition and independent opinion to serve tyranny
The Bahrain Press Association highlighted the dire reality of the press in Bahrain in light of the absence of opposition and independent opinion to perpetuate the tyranny practised by the Al-Khalifa regime.
In an analytical study, the association stated that newspapers worldwide strive to recruit prominent political, media and social elites who are distinguished in presenting visions and ensure that newspapers bring in more readers and followers.
On the other hand, the opinion writer strives to comment on daily, local and global events and provides the reader with his opinion and interpretations of those events and what they mean.
The importance of the article writer lies in influencing readers to form public opinion and participate in the public debate on an issue.
Nevertheless, like other sections of print or online newspapers, opinion articles began to lose their importance with the emergence of political television programs and later with the revolution of social media, which began to transmit news as opinions first-hand.
Currently, leaders are looking for those who comment on the event as it happens, whether in tweets or videos on Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok.
The report finding:
The Bahrain Press Association (BPA) has documented 49 acts of infringement on media and expression freedoms in Bahrain during the year 2021. 26 of these incidents pertain to cyber activities. A report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Canada, confirmed the Bahraini government’s spying on the phones of Bahraini journalists and photographers abroad. Their iPhones were hacked with spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group.
According to the BPA’s annual monitoring, most of the documented cases were summoned for interrogation in police stations and by the Public Prosecution. Precisely, 31 citizens were summoned for expressing their opinions using various means, especially social media. In addition, the Association has documented 6 arrests, 7 judicial proceedings, as well as 4 other incidents of multiple forms of infringement. The most prominent charges brought against those interrogated, 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 for disease control and prevention,” “insulting the judiciary,” “criticizing the Ministry of Interior,” and “violating the public morals.”
Figures mentioned in this report indicate about a %50 decrease compared to the figures documented in the 2020 report, which included 111 infringements. The BPA believes that this significant drop is due to a kind of citizen’s self-censorship—a sense that has been developed in Bahrainis over the past years as a result of the harsh repression measures.
The Bahraini government’s arbitrary measures have placed thick walls around free speech and drawn bold red lines for what should not be talked about.
Consequently, and in order to avoid arbitrary charges, those with independent or dissenting opinions have resorted to choosing cautious and carefully chosen words that keep them away from algorithms used by the Cybercrime Directorate to identify its targets. The decrease in infringements is essentially a result of decreased critical voices and limited willingness to involve in public issues. The leaders of the Islamic Nationalist Association, Wifaq, are just an example. Since the Association’s dissolution in 2016, they have been refraining from expressing their opinions about public affairs on the Internet. They used to lead the country’s largest political association but now have no option but to succumb to the new reality created by the crackdown.
It was remarkable this year that the Parliament passed a legislation prohibiting members of the Parliament (MPs) themselves from “criticizing, blaming or accusing” the government. The decree is one further step on the way of making criticism of the government and its associated agencies and individuals a costly venture.
The Bahrain Press Association regrets the severe decline the country has reached in terms of media freedoms and freedom of expression. Meanwhile, it continues its appeal to the authorities to reconsider its stand and adopt a new reconciling approach that brings the country out of the tensions created by the 2011 crisis. The Bahraini government was able to gain a positive image of itself through the Alternative Penal Code. Nonetheless, those convicted in cases related to freedom of 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 citizenships were revoked during 2011, in violation to the provisions of the constitution and the law. Resolving these issues ensures putting the country on the right track.
Therefore, the Bahrain Press Association urges the Government of Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to take a bold decision to stop the deterioration in media freedoms that has continued since 2011.
The following are the details of the most prominent infringements during the year.
The Cybercrime Directorate (4 January 2021) summoned journalist Jaafar Al-Jamri for interrogation about a Tweet he retweeted criticizing Bahrain’s normalization of relations with Israel. The Directorate summoned Al-Jamri for the second time (11 February 2021) to interrogate him about a lawsuit filed against him by the Ministry of Education after he had tweeted about the “Future Schools”.
The Public Prosecution summoned (27 January 2021) nutritional therapist Dr. Alia Almoayed. It accused her of “working against the efforts of the national team for the Coronavirus control and prevention” after she had tweeted questioning the vaccines. In addition, the Cybercrime Directorate summoned (24 March 2021) lawyer Abdullah Hashem for interrogation over a lawsuit filed by Al-Arabiya News reporter claiming that Hashem criticized him in a Tweet.
The Public Prosecution summoned (11 May 2021) former MP—and member of Al-Minbar Al-Islami Society—Muhammad Khaled for interrogation about retweeting the Kuwaiti writer Dr. Jassim Al-Jezza who criticized Gulf states for normalization with Israel. Likewise, the Cybercrime Directorate summoned (24 May 2021) a 52-year-old lady for a Tweet that the Directorate deemed “an insult to one of the religions in the country and incitement to hatred of a religious sect.”
In the period between 10 and 20 August 2021, security authorities summoned 15 Shiite chanters and clerics to interrogate them about charges related to commemorating Ashura rituals. They were especially interrogated about the purport of some sermons and chants. The following names were identified among those who were summoned:
Sheikh Muhammad Riyash, Sheikh Abdel-Muhsen Mulla Attia Jamry, chanters Muhammad Al-Qallaf, Salih Sahwan, Hassan Nowruz, Sayed Ahmad Al-Alawy, Ali Muhammad Al Abbas, Hussein Ali Muhammad Ashur, Kadhim Ibrahim Mahdy, Muhammad Abdel-Halim Fardan, Ali Ahmad Mahdy, Youssef Ahmad Mahdy, Ahmad Khalil Zain El-Din, Sadeq Abdel-Wahed Marhoun.
Security authorities summoned (4 October 2021) journalist Saad Rashid upon a lawsuit filed against him by a member of the civil society. They also summoned (29 October 2021) employees and members of the Bahrain Anti-Normalization Society. Ghassan Sarhan, Ibrahim Kamal al-Din, and Ammar Siyady were interrogated about their invitation to hold an event in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The Capital Govornorate’s Public Prosecution summoned (8 December 2021) 4 defendants for interrogation about accusations of “incitement to commit immorality”. They were charged after posting videos on social media the Prosecution deemed contrary to public morality. Moreover, the Public Prosecution summoned (14 December 2021) the manager of the “Disney nursery”, Maryam Rady, after she had filmed a video of the nursery’s children discussing domestic social and political issues.
The Ministry of Interior arrested (7 January 2021) a 44-year-old woman for sharing on her Instagram account what the Ministry described as “incitement to immorality.” The Ministry also arrested (23 February 2021) another 35-year-old woman over the same charges after posting a video on social media that included what the Ministry described as “anti-public moral statements”.
On 13th May 2021, the Ministry of Interior arrested the Bahraini citizen Murtada Al-Laith who criticized a statement the Ministry issued in response to the Qatari Al-Jazeera news channel. The statement denied the existence of any political prisoners in Bahrain.
The Ministry of Interior arrested (23 June 2021) the retired Naval Colonel Muhammad Al-Zayani for posting on his Instagram account a video that touched indirectly on corruption in the judiciary system. “If a judge helps a corrupt person, then the judge himself is corrupt,” Zayani posted. In addition, the Ministry arrested (30 June 2021) former MP Usama Al-Tamimy from the hospital, where he was receiving medical care. His arrest was one day after he published an audio clip accusing the authorities of “injecting him with a poisonous substance that caused him a stroke.”
The Anti-Cybercrime Directorate arrested (9 December 2021) a 21-year-old young man it claimed he “offended the Divine Self and incited engagement in acts of immoral behavior by posting immoral images on social media.”
Judicial Proceedings and Penalties
The General Administration of Investigation and Criminal Evidence obliged (22 March 2021) the secretary-general of the Unitary National Democratic Assemblage, Hassan Al-Marzouq, to pay a fine upon a judgment issued against him. He commented on the decree saying that he had no idea about it. Al-Marzouq was charged over his old Tweet about the siege of the village of Daraz.
A Bahraini court sentenced (31 March 2021) a 44-year-old woman to 6 months in prison on charges of “advocating and inciting the practice of adultery.” The charges were based on a video clip she posted on social media. On the other hand, a minor criminal court sentenced (6 April 2021) citizen Ahmad Saad to 3 years in prison on charges of “insulting the judiciary”. Saad had published a video clip in which he complained about a member of the judiciary following his case in court.
Based on a lawsuit filed by the Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa, the Lawyers Disciplinary Council decided (22 March 2021) to ban lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi from practicing law for one year. Shamlawi was charged for Tweeting about fasting on the Day of Ashura.
The Minor Criminal Court sentenced (8 July 2021) activist Muhammad Al-Zayani over charges of showing contempt for a judicial body. The Supreme Court of Appeal (3 August 2021) upheld his sentence, but later, on 31st October, it commuted it to half of the term. Eventually, on 3rd November, the executive judge granted him a conditional release under the Alternative Penal Code.
The detained academic and blogger Dr. Abdul-Jalil Al-Singace started (July 8, 2021) an open hunger strike after the officer in Jaw Central Prison, Muhammad Yousef Fakhro, confiscated a research he had written in prison on popular proverbs. A report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Canada, revealed (24 August 2021) that the Bahraini government has spied on the phone of Twitter Yousef al-Jamri, who tweets via his news account @YusufAlJamri. It also spied on photographer Musa Abdali. The government uses an iPhone spyware developed by the Israeli NSO Group.
On the other hand, the former columnist for ‘Akhbar Al Khaleej’ newspaper, Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, confirmed (27 September 2021) that he has still been banned from writing in the newspaper since 2019. “My ban continues to this day,” he Tweeted. In addition, the Ministry of Justice ordered (10 November 2021) the cancellation of a webinar organized via Zoom titled ‘The Economic Recovery Plan: An Analytical Vision,’ in which the leader of the dissolved ‘WAAD’ Association, Ibrahim Sharif, was going to participate.