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TWENTY-SIX IFEX MEMBERS SLAM GOVERNMENT'S LATEST ATTACK ON FREE EXPRESSION

Journalist and editor convicted of criminal defamation. Popular film banned. Women's rights defender forbidden from appearing in media. These were just some of the headlines last month in Bahrain, where the right to freedom of expression has been recently targeted and curtailed. Twenty-six IFEX members and 21 other organisations, led by Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), are demanding that the authorities stop their latest clampdown on free expression.

According to BCHR, the Bahraini authorities have recently taken severe measures against activists to prevent them from communicating with the public by blocking access to websites, banning films and books and even doling out media bans.

Last month, the Hollywood film "The Kingdom", which explores the "war on terror" through a fictional story set in Saudi Arabia, was banned without explanation.

Authorities also blocked the website of the HAQ movement - http://www.haaq.org - a popular civic organisation that calls for respect for human rights and democratisation in Bahrain. HAQ's site adds to BCHR's list of 26 websites that have been blocked this year in the country, including BCHR's own and the website of IFEX member the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo). The websites were blocked by Batelco, Bahrain's only Internet service provider that happens to be government owned.

Also in October, women's rights activist Ghada Jamsheer - one of "Time" magazine's "heroes of freedom" in the Arab world - was given formal notice that she was not to appear in any Bahraini media because of a letter she wrote to the King. In her letter, Jamsheer called for the Supreme Council for Women, chaired by the King's wife, to be dissolved for being politically loyal to the government and not promoting women's rights.

Meanwhile, writers, journalists and activists have been prosecuted through the courts for exercising their right to free expression. In the most recent case, a journalist and his editor were each fined 1,000 BD (US$2,650) for an article that allegedly defamed the president of Arabian Gulf University.

The charges were based on controversial articles of the 2002 Press and Publication Law and 1976 Penal Code that have been criticised for not meeting international standards. The offending articles have been used in recent months to interrogate and prosecute more than 14 journalists, bloggers and website administrators, says BCHR.

The 26 IFEX members call upon the Bahraini authorities to stop violating freedom of expression, eliminate abusive laws, and respect their commitment to international charters and covenants, in particular article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Visit these links:
- IFEX joint action: http://tinyurl.com/27qnyu
- IFEX alerts on Bahrain: http://tinyurl.com/ytqq7w
- BCHR alerts: http://www.bahrainrights.org/
(13 November 2007)

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