Following Repressive Crackdown on Associations, Activists and Bloggers, Al Wasat the Only Independent Newspaper is Shut in Bahrain

4th of June 2017

Following Repressive Crackdown on Associations, Activists and Bloggers, Al Wasat the Only Independent Newspaper is Shut in Bahrain 

SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights expresses its deep concern about the Ministry of Information’s decision today to close Al-Wasat Bahraini newspaper, the only independent newspaper in the country. The closure came due to an opinion article written by a columnist in the newspaper.
On June 4, the Ministry of Information announced the suspension of issuance and circulation of Al Wasat newspaper until further notice. The ministry claimed that the reason for the suspension was due to “violating the law” and “spreading and broadcasting what stirs the community and affect the relations of the Kingdom of Bahrain with other countries”.

It is noteworthy that this comes as the second time that the ministry closed the newspaper in this year only. On January 17, 2017, the ministry closed the newspaper online due to the publication of the newspaper of photos of three citizens who were sentenced to death. The ministry claimed this raises division in the society

On August 6, 2015, the Information Affairs Authority closed Al-Wasat for an article written by a columnist

In April 2011, in the period of the emergency law, Al-Wasat was also closed for one day due to its coverage of the events that took place during that period, including the publication of the news of the killing of a founding member of Al Wassat media newspaper Karim Fakhrawi, who was killed under torture in the prisons of the National Security Agency.

This latest closure of the newspaper was preceded by a systematic campaign of incitement in pro-government and semi-official newspapers explicitly demanding the closure of Al-Wasat for publishing the latest Human Rights Commission statements about Bahrain, France’s call for national reconciliation in Bahrain. An incitement campaign on social media by officials and MPs loyal to the Bahraini government accompanied that as well.

On April 26 of  this year, Reporters Without Borders said that Bahrain had joined the blacklist in press freedom, imprisoning journalists and registering a decline in freedom of press. Bahrain was ranked 164 out of 180 countries
Despite the prosecutions of Al-Wasat members and the harassment campaigns, Alexa website’s statistics indicated that Al Wasat website is the most popular among the Bahraini websites and its newspaper is the most widespread in Bahrain

It is also worth mentioning that Al Wasat Newspaper was founded on 2002, and is the only independent newspaper in Bahrain. It was subject to harassment campaigns over the last years where on 2010 it was prevented from using the means of visual media and television interviews on their website.

In a related context to this repressive campaign, the Bahraini authorities today banned the delegation of the General Union of Trade Unions of Bahrain headed by Abdul Qader Al-Shihabi from participating in the 106th session of the International Labor Conference in Geneva. This ban prevented all members of the Bahraini delegation from traveling to the comprehensive international review in the Human rights Council in Geneva. We consider this action to be a clear violation of article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

SSALAM for Democracy and Human Rights believes that the closure of Al Wasat newspaper today has nothing to do with the article by the columnist Qassim Hussein, but rather is a continuation of a repressive campaign following the desolation of  all opposition and religious societies and the target of members of civil society in Bahrain. We note that the suspension of Al Wasat newspaper does not only constitute a decline in the levels of freedom of expression, but is also a frank assertion that the official authorities do not accept any opinion contrary to the opinion of the government. A lack of a culture of tolerance and acceptance of the other opinion indeed.

According to the above, SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights calls on the Bahraini authorities to:

  • immediately drop the decision to close the Al Wasat newspaper and allow it to be issued;
  • Stop using the judicial system as a tool to suppress journalists, and freedom of expression, and stop controlling the media through restrictive laws;
  • show full respect for freedom of the press and to repeal laws that criminalize the peaceful exercise of opinion in the light of Bahrain’s obligations under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • Stop targeting journalists and re-licensing journalists working for international news agencies;
  • Allow members of independent civil society organizations to travel without restrictions and harassment.