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Reformist writer banned from addressing public issues and publishing his speeches

(BCHR/IFEX) - The BCHR is gravely concerned about the continuing clampdown on freedom of opinion and expression in Bahrain which resulted in Sheikh Salah Al-Jowder being prevented from distributing his sermons for Friday prayers to local newspapers.

The head of the Sunni Endowment Department of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, who is a member of the royal family, sent an ultimatum to Al-Jowder, the imam of the Qalali Mosque, regarding his "political" sermons during Friday prayers and their dissemination to the public in Bahraini newspapers.

Al-Jowder sent a statement to the press outlining the instructions that were given to him and asking them to stop publishing his speeches as of 19 September 2008. Earlier, Al-Jowder had also suspended his speeches at the Tariq ibn Ziyad Mosque without explaining the reasons behind his move. He was then transferred to the Qalali Mosque.

It is worth mentioning that Al-Jowder, in addition to being a writer for the "Al-Ayam" newspaper, is also one of the distinguished reformist speakers found among the Sunni Bahraini community. Over the past few years, his speeches have touched on issues of concern to the public and society. He is known for his consistent calls for religious tolerance and religious rapprochement between people from different religious, ideological and ethnic backgrounds, as well as for his disapproval of hatred and sectarian sedition. Al-Jowder also maintains relationships with other sects and various societal groups. Recently, Al-Jowder referred to the Bahraini Press Code, stating, "We want a modern press law, not a law which imposes royalties and fines to muzzle mouths and tongues."

Nabeel Rajab, the president of the BCHR, commented on Al-Jowder's case, saying, "Such practices are a blatant violation of freedom of expression and contravene the second paragraph of Article 19 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] which states that 'Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.'" "The authorities should lift their clampdown on freedom of expression and allow reformists, writers and activists to freely express their views and communicate with the public in any way they see fit," Rajab added.

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