Journalism in Bahrain

Introduction

Bahrain is one of the nations among the Middle East nations that are often criticized for lack of free journalism. The country lacks freedom of press and journalism because the governing authorities always monitor the sector in a pessimistic way.

Bahrain is headed by the Khalifah family and has a British protectorate. The country has lacked freedom of press since the beginning of civil movements in the Arab nations, and has seen the rise of political movements seeking for freedom of press and democracy for the journalist and the public in general.

The International Media Support is making efforts to promote freedom of press in Bahrain and ensure that Journalism is not suppressed (Freedom House, 2011). IMS has been present in Bahrain since 2005 collaborating with journalist defenders to ensure that journalism is effective in the country. This paper provides an analysis of journalism status in Bahrain.

Violation of freedom of speech

Bahrain journalists are insecure physically as well as in their work and careers in general. Close to 100 journalists in the country have either been sacked or arrested because of their work. Journalists are even calling for aid to end the blow that is affecting their work. The journalists initiated a political movement in May 2011 that was aimed at compelling the government to observe and promote freedom of movement and democracy in the journalism sector in the country.

The government countered the political movement by ordering vicious security crackdowns including the deployment of Peninsula Shield forces into the country (Freedom House, 2011). The journalist covered the unfolding of these events through local newspapers and television networks via satellites.

They also used other forms of social networking including facebook and twitter. Their actions provoked the government and consequently, close to 100 of the journalists were relieved of their duties while others were threatened of sanctions by the authorities and other powerful organizations in the country. This justifies the intensity of violation of freedom of press and the shaky nature of journalism as a whole in Bahrain.

The country was consequently labeled as a dangerous place for journalists and journalism and is still as dangerous as it was in 2011. Some of the journalist have died at the hands of the authorities while several others are in police custody. The number of journalists dying in interrogation centers in the country has been increasing, in addition to close to 35, of them who perished during the demonstrations (Freedom House, 2011).

Violent media intimidation

Journalists in Bahrain are overly intimidated and harassed by the authorities without valid reasons according to the reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ noted that Bahrain and Yemen authorities physically assaulted the journalists amid calls to end the acts.

Several journalists have been unlawfully detained and harassed by the authorities and this has significantly affected the global efforts of promoting freedom of press. Both Bahrain and Yemen top the list of the most consistent violators of the freedom of press and the rights of journalists in the World. The Bahrain government has been rightfully criticized employing excessive force against specific journalists in a bid to intimidate them (CPJ, 2011b).

Several journalists are government’s targets as evidenced by the detention of Photographer Mazen Mahdi, of the Defense News. The government arrested, blindfolded and physically abused the photographer amid claims that he published wrong information that tainted the country’s figure. According to CPJ reports, the number of journalists physically harassed in the globe has increased by more than 50 percent, but most of the cases have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa regions.

The committee also observed that journalists often perished at the hands of Bahrain authorities and cited two of them as evidence of their claim. One Karim Fakhrawi and Zakariya Rashid Hassan al-Ashiri of Al-Wasat Newspaper and Editor of a popular website respectively perished in the government prisons in early 2011 (CPJ, 2011b).

Although the authorities claimed that the two succumbed to natural illnesses, there was plenty of suspicions that the two were purposely murdered. Several human rights activists and journalists defenders including Abduljalil Alsingace criticized the government actions and cited this as a high profile case of violation of freedom of press and breach of human rights.

CPJ has been in the frontline in the fight for journalists’ rights and maintains that journalists should not be detained or harassed in their work. The committee has written to various organizations and government authorities criticizing journalists’ intimidation and compelling them to end these uncouth activities (CPJ, 2011b).

Suppression amid National Security concerns

Several governments have been harassing journalists in the pretext that their actions are a risk to the national securities. In Bahrain, the government has been suppressing journalism by harassing, threatening and limiting their movements in order to prevent the coverage of specific issues of the government.

The government does this partly to conceal some of its activities that are not right according to the public interpretations and partly to limit the activities of the opposition politicians. Although all governments have the right to defend the national rights by safeguarding vital national secrets and countering any action that threatens the security of the country, CPJ has reasons to belief that Bahrain authorities are using the right as a scapegoat to suppress journalism in the country (IFEX, 2011).

Bahrain authorities have violated the national security laws by harassing critical journalists. The CPJ reports have indicated an increase in the use of antistate allegations against the governments to pin down and harass the journalists. Bahrain authorities have been wrongfully accusing journalists of such crimes including espionage and affiliation to terrorism to detain and harass the journalists.

This intensified after the September 11 attacks against U.S because it is then when terrorism became a serious global issue. CPJ reported about 19 journalists facing antistate accusations in the entire Middle East region by the end of 2001 while the number has sworn to over 20 cases between 2009 and 2011. CPJ highly condemns this government tactic to intimidate journalists and calls for all authorities using this form of harassment to stop (IFEX, 2011).

The Bahrain government has also been using the national security issue to send its retribution to the government critics, opposition leaders and human rights activists. The government is using this plan as a leeway to suppress journalism activities. At the end of 2010, the government displayed its vengeance to the political opponents by banning the coverage of their activities. This suppressed journalists’ activities though the idea behind the plan was to punish the opposition politicians.

The government also arrested and detained hundreds of the opposition supporters claiming that they were a risk to the safety of the nation because they perpetuated a terrorist network. All of those arrested were either government critics or human rights defenders (IFEX, 2011).

This was an open case of violation of freedom of press because it was unlikely that only the government critics constituent a terrorist network. The government also prevented an attempt to analyze the arrests by ordering all media firms to desist from reporting on the cases.

The journalists were only allowed to report the government statements on the situation and not the real picture on the ground. One of the arrested journalist Ali Abdel Iman was accused of several crimes including promoting terrorist activities and organizing for the toppling of the government. All these accusations were untrue and were part of the greater government plan to intimidate the journalists (IFEX, 2011).

Foreign journalists in Bahrain

Foreign journalists have limited access to Bahrain while those landing in the country face harassments of all forms. The Bahrain authorities are making it difficult for the foreign journalists to cover crucial activities in the country including anti-government demonstrations.

The 2011 anti-government demonstrations saw very little foreign coverage even as protestors flocked the Pearl Square to show their dissatisfaction to the nature of governance in the country. The journalist who made efforts to cover the actions of the demonstrators experienced several hurdles including lack of internet connectivity, failure of websites functioning and undue harassment.

The foreign journalists’ entry into Bahrain was also a nightmare. They were subjected to excessive questioning while most of them were detained (IFEX, 2011). A popular human rights activists, Mohammed al Maskati working with the International Media Support observed that indeed the government made the journalists’ efforts a painful experience.

Mohammed made efforts to help the journalists by unblocking non-functioning websites and rectifying the Internet connectivity issue. The journalists could hardly get the protestors concern or grievances through social networking sites such as facebook and tweeter. The government in contrast made a different observation by claiming that all the journalists were comfortable. The scanty journalists at the place reported that the government labeled the protestors as violent and the journalists as critics.

This is an evidence of the government’s disregard to freedom of press. The IMS which has been in operation in Bahrain since 2005 is promoting freedom of press. Its efforts have yielded fruits and have seen an improvement in the government’s regard to freedom of press. IMS makes efforts to promote democracy in journalism by monitoring media activities and endorsing investigative journalism. IMS also promotes efforts aimed at instigating freedom of press and journalism as a whole in the nation (IFEX, 2011).

In addition to limited access to Bahrain, foreign journalists are detained in the country. Both CPJ and a tweeter posting reported the arrest of CNN reporters while interviewing a popular human rights activist in the country in early 2011. This was another case of violation of freedom of press and suppression of journalism.

The crew were arrested at the home of Nabeel Rajab, the head of the Center for Human Rights in the country. Although the journalists were released several hours later, their mission was thwarted while the government achieved its objective of intimidating them. This shows that Bahrain is not conducive or safe for the foreign journalists as well.

Unjustified journalist jail terms

CPJ has criticized the Bahrain authorities for promoting unjustified lengthy jail terms for journalists. In September 2011, the appeals court of the National safety supported the lengthy jail terms of some suspects who included two journalists and a popular human rights activists. This decision was highly criticized by CPJ. CPJ believed that the harsh punishment was endorsed because the suspects included journalists.

The government also breached the freedom of press in a different case by barring a newspaper from reporting the parliamentary by-elections taking place during that week. Several journalists were harassed as they made attempts to report the by-elections proceedings. The appeal court justified the earlier decision for harsh punishment for the victims and found the two journalists Abduljalil Alsingace and Ali Abdel Imam and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the human rights defender guilty as accused.

This was a case of open mistreatment of the journalist because the Court of National Safety which sentenced the suspects lacked fairness and failed to adhere to the procedural stipulations of court trial. The defense attorneys for instance had inadequate time with the suspects and similarly did not get adequate time to analyze and evaluate the evidence presented by the prosecutors (CPJ, 2011b).

In other government efforts to suppress journalism in Bahrain, the election committee failed to process journalists permits on time and thus barred the Independent daily Al-Wasat from reporting the proceedings of the government’s by-elections. The government’s actions of warning people to desist from posting messages on social networks urging people to demonstrate were also suspicious and aimed at intimidating the journalists (CPJ, 2011b).

An independent Jounalist Reem Khalifa was also harassed in yet another case of government’s violation of freedom of press. The journalist has been a target of the government and its supports often labeling her as a terrorist and a sectarian. Reem has been harassed in several occasions and in one case, government supporters blocked her attempts to carry out an interview. CPJ analyzed the case because a woman claimed that Reem had hit her. A video clip confirmed that Reem had not touched the woman and that the woman made the claims in a bid to frustrate Reem (CPJ, 2011b).

Another unjustified punishment to journalists occurred in June 2011 when a group of 21people including bloggers, activists and opposition leaders were found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment. The ruling by the court was one of the worst violations of freedom of press in the country. This is evidence that the government disregards the freedom of press and is determined to suppress journalism in Bahrain.

The charges against the 21 people were unjustified and were just an effort by the government to avenge against its critics and enemies according to CPJ. CPJ research indicated that both local and international rights activists spotted irregularities and flaws in the trials. The suspects were tried in the Court of National Safety which consisted of an illegal tribunal formed after the removal of martial law in the country. The tribunal was composed of both military and civilian judges and was not fit to conduct the trial.

This is because it was unconstitutional and was not right to trial the accused. In addition, the court failed to admit evidence of torture or any evidence from family members. Bahrain Center for Human Rights and several foreign human rights groups observed that the trial contained numerous irregularities and thus the ruling was not justified. The government’s decision to block all the international observers from attending any of the several trial sessions was a clear addiction that it had a hidden motif in the case (CPJ, 2011b).

CPJ’s message to the government

CPJ has been making numerous calls to the Bahrain authorities to end the harassments on journalists and appropriately prosecute those who violate the laws. CPJ has noted that critical journalists have been threatened, harassed and subjected to undue arrests.

The government should, for instance, desist from targeting the independent journalist Reem Khalifa because this is not only a violation of freedom of press but also a form of suppression of journalism in the country. The government should prosecute any allegations against journalist fairly or at least according to the law to ensure that their activities are free of intimidation 9 (CPJ, 2011c). CPJ notes that the authorities have a duty to provide security to both foreign and local journalists.

The government should thus stop any actions that make the journalists’ work difficult. The case of Reem should have been analyzed first before drawing a conclusion to ensure that she is rightly accused. CPJ has been of substantial help to the journalists because it provides adequate pressure to the government in regard to the treatment of journalists (CPJ, 2011c).

Conclusion

The paper has illustrated how the Bahrain authorities disregard the freedom of press consequently leading to suppression of journalism in the country. Just like most of the countries in the Middle East region, Bahrain is one of the countries whose authorities have suppressed journalism by violating the freedom of press. The government has in most cases suppressed journalism to hide its fallen projects and worst performing areas and as a vengeance to its critics and enemies.

The paper has highlighted several cases in which the government violated the freedom of press (Freedom House, 2011). Some of the worst cases in Bahrain and indeed in the whole world include the case in which 21 people were sentencing for life imprisonment on accusations of plotting a coup in the country. The trial proceedings in the case contained several irregularities.

The main regularity was that the trial tribunal was unconstitutional, and the trial process too was not constitutional. Bahrain authorities have openly violated press freedom in several cases. Foreign journalists are not allowed free access to the country while those allowed are detained or unduly harassed. The claim that the government limits the journalist for national security reasons is only a pretext because none of the government’s activities justifies this claim.

Those arrested or detained by the government are either critics or political opponents and never proved to be affiliated to any terrorist group. The International Media Support which has been in operation in Bahrain since 2005 has, however, made efforts to save the wanting status of journalism in the country. The government has shown little efforts in changing the suppression on journalism.

The journalists in the country, as well as the visiting ones, are thus left at the mercies of the government (Freedom House, 2011). However, the Committee to Protect Journalists has, been instrumental in helping the journalists in their trade because it monitors the governments’ activities towards journalists and journalism. The committee criticizes the government and thus helps in controlling the situation.

References

CPJ( 2011a, Sept 28). Bahrain upholds lengthy prison terms for journalists. Retrieved from http://www.cpj.org/2011/09/bahrain-1.php

CPJ( 2011b, May 24).Violent media intimidation in Yemen and Bahrain. Retrieved from http://www.cpj.org/2011/05/violent-media-intimidation-in-yemen-and- bahrain.php#more

CPJ( 2011c, Dec 20).CPJ supports Pakistani journalists facing threats. Retrieved from http://www.cpj.org/2011/12/cpj-supports-pakistani-journalists-facing-threats.php

Freedom House (2011, May 2). Middle East in Decline as Global Press Freedom Hits Low Point. Retrieved from http://freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=1405

IFEX (2011, May 9). International Freedom of Expression Exchange: The global network for free expression. Retrieved from http://www.ifex.org/bahrain/2011/05/09/jont_appeal/