The world celebrates World Press Freedom Day on May 3 of each year to remind us of the vital role the press plays in our societies. It stresses the importance of a free and independent press in a healthy democracy, emphasizing the principle of accountability, providing citizens with information, defending their rights and creating community awareness and representation of the people. However, freedom of the press is threatened in many parts of the world, particularly in Bahrain.
The press in Bahrain has always been subject to strict censorship and restrictions on its freedom. The Government of Bahrain (GoB) oversees a closed civil society, where journalists that express opposing opinions or criticize the government’s policies are subjected to harassment, intimidation, arrest, and even revocation of their citizenship.
On this day, we stand in solidarity with Bahraini journalists, who are subjected to various types of intimidation, restrictions and prosecutions from the Government of Bahrain to silence them. We stand with them as a system of criminal liability is arbitrarily and unfairly used against them, as stated in Chapter VI of the Bahraini Press Law, where they have been accused of committing crimes such as incitement, hate speech, and insulting public institutions and bodies. The use of such charges is particularly troubling because they are often vague, arbitrary and unfair, and can be used to prosecute journalists for doing their work properly. Journalists who violate the provisions of Articles 68 to 75 of the same law face criminal charges and imprisonment. In addition, the judiciary uses Article 11 of the Law no. (58) of 2006 with respect to “protecting society from terrorist acts” as a discretionary tool to detain and imprison journalists and activists on terrorism-related charges. This constitutes a legal defect that is used politically and arbitrarily to prosecute Bahraini journalists.
The penal code is also used to prosecute Bahraini journalists, through more than 30 articles in it that stipulate imprisonment and criminal fines. Journalists who write about sensitive or opposition issues are often targeted under these laws, facing imprisonment or heavy fines.
In addition, today we highlight one of the most important violations against free media in Bahrain, which is the closure of Al-Wasat newspaper on June 4, 2017, which was ordered by the Bahraini Ministry of Information Affairs. The newspaper was forced to cease operations, terminating the contracts of more than 185 full and part-time employees on June 24, 2017, as a result. The event constituted a clear violation of freedom of the press in Bahrain and shuddered the last independent newspaper in the country.
On this day, it is paramount to acknowledge the challenges faced by independent journalists in Bahrain and support their efforts to report the truth.
SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights calls on the Bahraini government to respect the principles of freedom of the press and to guarantee the freedom of journalists to perform their duties without fear of intimidation or persecution, through:
- Issue a modern press law that guarantees the rights of journalists and is consistent with international human rights conventions and treaties on freedom of the press and media, along with the protection of workers in this sector.
- Refrain from prosecuting journalists on terrorism related charges for carrying out their work under the Penal Code and amending the Press Law to lift criminal liability from journalists for carrying out their work, thus preventing their imprisonment.
- Establish an independent syndicate for journalists, whose function is to represent them, defend them and improve their conditions. It has the right to license and monitor newspapers in order to enhance freedom of opinion and expression.
- Restore the citizenship of the four journalists whose nationalities were revoked.
May 3, 2023