Bahrain ranked 168 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index according to Reporters Without Borders. That is two ranks down from 2018 and 4 from 2017 (164).
The third of May (World Press Freedom Day adopted by the United Nations) comes every year to serve as a conscience that reminds the Bahraini government of the need to fulfill its pledges towards freedom of the press. It is an opportunity to stand by the banned media that are deprived of their right to freedom of the press and support them. As well, it is a space to commemorate the journalists who worked professionally and gave their freedom and their lives for the truth.
Since the beginning of the popular movement in Bahrain in 2011, journalists and media have become a permanent target for the authorities, as the Bahrain Press Association documented 1706 acts of infringement of media freedoms between 2011 and 2020. The confrontational relationship between the government and the press continued at a time when Bahrain was considered one of the first Gulf countries that gave importance and space to the emergence and development of the press. In addition, 111 violations were documented during the year 2020.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) believes that the attacks on the media sector arise from an unfair legal background, as Bahrain suffers due to laws and legislation that do not take into account the basic rights stipulated in international laws. The laws in Bahrain promote freedom in the theoretical and not practical form, as Law No. 47 of the year 2002 (Regarding organizing the press, printing and publishing) criminalizes the “criticism” of the king, the government, or official institutions. In addition, it does not include Articles that pursue violators of the right to access information. As well, Law No. 60 of 2014 imposes significant restrictions on online journalists.
BCHR followed up the government’s decision to refer the amendments to provisions of the law on “organizing the Press, Printing and Publishing” to the Parliament last month. In detail, the Center believes that the amendments grant the authorities greater control over the media, and do not include any fundamental changes required by the media sector. From a legal perspective, the amendments include many loopholes that allow the government to practice harassment and arrests of journalists. The law has abolished the pre-trial detention for journalists on a pending investigation, but they can be imprisoned under other laws implemented in the country, on top of which is the Anti-Terrorism Law.
Among these loopholes, the amendment stipulated that everyone who seeks to own a website or contribute to it must not be deprived of his civil or political rights, and this leads to depriving most members of civil and political societies in Bahrain of this right.
Hence, the President of BCHR, Nedal Al-Salman, believes that “Bahrain should abolish laws that restrict freedom of opinion and expression and make the journalist confined to a box from which he cannot escape in order to perform his duties in a professional manner. We call on the government for serious amendments that do not aim only at media propaganda, but at ensuring the protection of journalists and their freedoms in times of conflict”.
On this day, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) calls on the authorities for the following:
- allowing closed newspapers and websites to resume operations unconditionally;
- releasing of all journalists detained in Bahraini prisons, especially amid the outbreak of the Coronavirus in prisons;
- prosecuting violators of the right to access information and journalistic work, including the security services;
- abolishing the overbroad laws that allow the authorities to violate freedom of expression under many reasons;
- adopting a fundamental and practical amendment of the laws to ensure the protection of journalists and their freedoms.