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The Bahrain Press Association: Bahraini opinions on Twitter “unsent”

The Bahrain Press Association said that despite the decline in documented cases targeting journalists and activists via social media, Bahrain’s ceiling for freedom of expression is still low.

In a press statement, the association stated that the decline in the number of violations recorded in this regard does not mean in any way that the government has adopted a new approach to the file of freedoms in the country but rather is due to other reasons, including the self-censorship imposed by the people themselves.

According to the association, journalists and political and human rights activists in Bahrain work under the pressure of summonses, investigations, accountability and judicial penalties with heavy penalties.

This forced them to refrain from expressing many of their positions on public affairs issues, as it might cause them trouble.

The association stressed that it could not be said that the ceiling of freedom of expression in Bahrain has risen simply because new cases of violations have not been documented. Bahrainis need the skills to adapt to a low level of liberties and burdensome penalties for those who exceed them.

When one of the prominent Bahraini journalists was asked about his opinion on this matter, he replied, “the targeting of those with opposing views of the government has never receded.” He added that the authorities continue to summon and investigate activists online.

He revealed that at least two activists were recently summoned to investigate their political views. However, the activists refused to announce their interrogation.

“The security authorities may punish those who reveal anything about their investigation. Thus people are scared to announce their investigation.”

The journalist, who preferred not to be named, said, “All journalists and activists monitor their posts on the Internet and try not to disturb the official authorities… No one wants to be investigated or questioned. This is the atmosphere today in Bahrain.”

And whether he believes that it is permissible to discuss issues of the upcoming legislative elections, he answers, “This matter is not only related to the opposition, even government loyalists are not allowed to express their opinions… Some told me they will not participate in the elections but are afraid to state their position.”

He continues, “Many write tweets on the social networking site Twitter, for example, but delete them before publishing them, and others keep them in unsent tweets.”

Fear in Bahrain controls what is said and what is not said automatically, which is one of the biggest threats to freedom of expression.

The decrease in the ceiling of freedoms is significant, which has recently prompted those close to the government to call for allowing the space to express opinions freely.

The expression of their discontent close to the government clearly indicates how bad the situation in the country has become.

After the editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper, Anwar Abdul Rahman expressed his displeasure with the constant harassment and the reduced margin of freedom for the poor, the writer in Al-Watan newspaper, Sawsan Al-Shaer, adopted a similar position.

Al-Shaer says that what is published in the local press is “an expression of the executive authority’s opinion formulated and sent through the National Communication Center, and the newspaper has nothing but to transfer it verbatim. It is a step that is not consistent with the history of Bahrain… that took us back more than a hundred years.”

Al-Shaer added, “The freedom of the media is not to remove the prison sentence of the journalist from the law. The freedom of the media is to let the journalist… express his opinion.”

Abdul Rahman heads a newspaper close to former Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, while the poet writes a daily article in Al Watan newspaper, which is close to the royal court.

The government needs to adopt a new approach to freedom of expression that will allow everyone to express their opinions without equivocation or fear.

This charged atmosphere is not befitting a country that claims to offer a unique experience of political openness and guarantee its citizens’ public and private freedoms.

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