Reporters Without Borders said it deplores the breaches of press freedom by the Bahraini authorities in the run-up to the Formula One Grand Prix due to take place this weekend.
“The monarch have given assurances that Bahrain is an open society but the organization has recorded numerous breaches of freedom of information since the start of the year,” the press freedom organization said.
“Last December, we ranked Manama among the 10 most dangerous places for journalists and so far we have seen no significant improvement in the conditions in which those employed in the media carry out their work.
“Government propaganda must give way to a genuinely free press.”
On April 10, the Bahraini foreign ministry said in a statement that the Gulf kingdom “reiterates its respect for the principles of human rights and freedoms within the framework of law and order and justice”. However, the high number of infringements of freedom of the press shows the government does not appear to include it among these principles.
Visa applications rejected
Several journalists are unable to go to Bahrain to cover the Grand Prix, the high point of the government’s propaganda drive. Stuart Ramsay, chief correspondent of Sky News, and producer Matog Saleh were refused entry without explanation. The Financial Times reporter Simeon Kerr was turned back at Manama Airport.
A photographer from the French news agency Agence France-Presse and two journalists from the US agency Associated Press, all of whom are based in Dubai and had accreditation from motor sport’s governing body FIA, did not receive their visas in time.
In denying these visas, the Bahraini authorities are trying to impose an information blackout once again. In the run-up to street demonstrations planned for 14 February marking the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising, several journalists had their visa applications turned down by the authorities.
Attacks and arrests
Information obtained by Reporters Without Borders indicates that journalists in the proximity of demonstrations are regularly targeted by security forces.
On 16 April, three photojournalists, Mazen Mahdi (Deutsche Presse-Agentur), Hassan Jamali (Associated Press) and Hamad Mohamed (Reuters), as well as a Reuters cameraman, were briefly held by security forces as they were covering a demonstration in protest against the murder of the citizen journalist Ahmed Ismail, shot dead during a demonstration at the end of last month.
On 9 April, Ahmed al-Bosta, a 57-year-old journalist, was arrested by police while they were dispersing protesters in Manama. He was beaten up and verbally abused by officers before being released half-an-hour later.
Shots taken by Mahdi near a demonstration on 7 April calling for the release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a leading activist serving a life sentence, show a police officer, carefully placing a tear gas canister close to the photographer who realized that there were no demonstrators nearby at the time.
On 6 April, Mahdi was briefly detained during a demonstration in Nuwaidrat. To prevent him covering it, the police said his press card could be forged. But they did not attempt to verify its validity. Mohamed was meanwhile injured by a teargas grenade in Sanabis and spent two hours at the Military Hospital, a public hospital, without being treated before deciding to go to a private clinic.
Mahdi, Mohamed and Jamali were all detained later the same day in Sanabis “for their own security.” After refusing to verify their press cards, which had been issued by the interior ministry, the police finally let them go after 45 minutes.
As previously reported, the citizen journalist Ahmed Ismail was fatally shot while covering a demonstration on 31 March. During the first three months of the year, Reporters Without Borders registered 15 attacks on journalists, nine cases of access to information being blocked, six cases of journalists being threatened, and one case of seizure of equipment.
After several adjournments, a court yesterday ordered the journalist Reem Khalifa to pay a fine of 100 dinars (200 euros) and damages of 500 dinars (1,000 euros) to the three government supporters who insulted and physically attacked her in February 2011. Khalifa was accused of attacking them after she filed a complaint against them. She has appealed against yesterday’s ruling and a hearing will probably be held in September. Khalifa discussed the press freedom situation in Bahrain in an interview she gave on 15 April.
On 18 April, a criminal high court had been due to rule on the complaint that France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Daouliya correspondent Naziha Saeed brought against the woman police officer who allegedly tortured her during interrogation on 22 March 2011. The hearing was adjourned on the grounds that not all of the investigative procedures had been completed. As this is the second postponement, it seems the authorities are playing for time and trying to delay the outcome.