The Closure of Alwasat and the Decline of Human Rights in Bahrain

Today, June 4th, marks the 4th anniversary of the arbitrary shutdown of Alwasat, the only independent newspaper in Bahrain. The harsh crackdown on independent news media and press freedom is a major concern for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The shutdown represents a major decline in the freedom of expression and has severe implications on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

Alwasat (Arabic for “the middle”) was established in 2002, following reforms by King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa. The establishment of an independent news outlet, headed by journalist Mansoor Al-Jamri, was seen as a positive advancement in press freedom on the island. At its height, Alwasat had the most readership out of any newspaper locally according to a 2012 survey by the Pan Arab Readership Council. Al-Jamri himself was awarded multiple press freedom awards, such as the CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2011, for his role in pioneering independent journalism in Bahrain.

In the years following the 2011 pro-democracy popular uprising, the Bahraini authority has made a continual effort to silence and punish any and every form of criticism directed towards it. This includes imprisonment of thousands of its citizens, torture of political prisoners, and revocations of citizenships of numerous oppositional leaders. One of the most tragic incidents of attacks on media personnel was the case of one of Alwasat’s co-founders, Abdulkarim Ali Ahmed Fakhrawi. According to the government-sponsored Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), Fakhrawi was detained on April 2nd, 2011, and died ten days later as a result of what the government itself termed as “torture while in the custody of the National Security Agency (NSA).”

The attacks on independent news media and media personnel culminated in the suspension of Alwasat by the Ministry of Informational Affairs on June 4th, 2017. The Ministry cited Alwasat’s article on a popular uprising in al-Hoceima, Morocco as an attempt by the newspaper to damage Bahrain’s relationship with other countries. The shutdown of Alwasat is part of a broader effort taken by the government to suppress any form of dissent. Hence, four days prior to that, on May 31st, 2017, the government had dissolved the National Democratic Action Society (Wa’ad), the country’s leading secular opposition political party.

These attacks on the intellectual and political liberty of Bahrainis and the control of information and political action have serious implications on the human rights situation on the ground. Alwasat’s suspension is a clear violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” Furthermore, the suspension is also a violation of Bahrain’s Decree No. 47 for 2002, the press law that requires a court order for the suspension of any newspaper.

Taking this information into consideration, BCHR urges the government of Bahrain to:

  • revoke the suspension of Alwasat and guarantee independent journalists a safe and secure environment for them to fulfill their responsibility and practice their profession;
  • end the unlawful intimidation, imprisonment, and torture of dissidents;
  • reinstate the citizenships and uphold the rights of those individuals whose citizenships have been revoked.