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UPPER HOUSE VOTES TO DECRIMINALISE PRESS OFFENCES

Bahrain's upper house of parliament has approved amendments that would scrap prison sentences for press offences, reports Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

On 28 May, the Consultative Council, the upper house of Bahrain's parliament, approved amendments to the 2002 press law that would decriminalise press offences, currently punishable by six months to five years in prison. The revised bill also would protect editors from being sued over articles they did not write.

The bill will now go to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, and the government, for approval. Three years ago, however, the lower house rejected a similar bill, RSF reports.

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), an IFEX interim member, reports that in another move away from the suppression of dissent, the King of Bahrain has frozen the case against BCHR president Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and two other outspoken critics. The three activists were arrested and faced criminal charges carrying prison terms of up to 15 years for making speeches critical of the government. Political websites and blogs, including BCHR's, have been blocked inside Bahrain. BCHR was dissolved by the government in 2004, but continues to operate.

Bahrain was ranked 111th out of 168 in the 2006 RSF World Press Freedom Index. According to RSF, more than 65 lawsuits have been brought against journalists since 2001, but no journalists have been imprisoned.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22348
- BCHR on free expression: http://www.bahrainrights.org/freespeech
- Gulf News: http://tinyurl.com/37bobq
(12 June 2007)

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