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Minister of Information replaced following TV programme critical of ruling elite corruption

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has learned that the Bahraini Minister of Information, Jihad Bu-Kamal, has been replaced by Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa, a member of the royal family, after a talk-show program criticising the ruling elite of corruption was aired on TV.

Bu-Kamal, a businessman and former member of the Appointed Shura Council, was named Minister of Information just over a year ago in a limited ministerial cabinet shuffle. Bu-Kamal took the place of Mohamed Abdulghaffar, the current Bahraini ambassador to Brussels, after a row over a cultural programme (coordinated by Al-Khalifa, who was then the assistant secretary to the Ministry of Information. The programme provoked the Islamists in Parliament, leading to the creation of a committee, which denounced the programme and its coordinator.

Last week, the Bahraini TV programme "Al-Meezan" invited Ibrahim Sharif, Secretary General of the National Democratic Action Society, also known as "Waad," and Abdulnabi Salman, a former member of Parliament and member of the Progressive Democratic Forum Society, also known as "Al-Menbar", to speak about the 2007 Report of the Fiscal Monitoring Bureau.

In that TV programme, Abdulnabi and Sharif criticised the fiscal report, pointing to the deterioration of the oversight capabilities of Parliament, and accused the government of hiding detailed information concerning oil revenues, future funds, tenders and the spending of the military and service ministries. Sharif accused the executive branch, led by Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's only prime minister since 1970, of lying and misleading the public with regards to misappropriations of public funds. He further inquired about the inflated budget of the Royal Court, as well as of other state-owned companies. Sharif accused the ruling elite of breaching the Bahraini Constitution, which limited the funds allocated to the Royal Court.

Nabeel Rajab, the president of BHCR, stated, "This is a sad and strange act by the Bahraini government, whose public relations endeavours try to portray Bahrain as an oasis of transparency and respect for freedom of expression."

The BCHR deplores the reprisal against the Minister of Information
for giving members of political societies a single opportunity to express their views on public issues live and without constraints. "The Minister of Information was penalised for not ensuring that the invited TV guests would not express their views in this unapproved manner," Rajab added.

Last week, the Bahraini Minister of Interior, a member of the royal family, issued a statement threatening citizens with legal prosecution for any form of contact with foreign agencies or participation in events concerning local issues while outside Bahrain.

The Bahraini authorities should refrain from penalising its citizens for expressing their views and should lift all legislative restrictions on any form of expression. BCHR believes that the Bahraini authorities should loosen their grip over TV, radio and the press to enable citizens to express themselves without fear of punishment or legal action.

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