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Politically motivated closure of "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" newspaper

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its deep concern regarding the administrative decision to close the daily "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" newspaper, without any court order or stated reasons.

A news article published on 22 June 2009 in all the local Bahraini newspapers stated that the Bahraini authorities suspended the issuing of"Akhbar Al-Khaleej" until further notice. The newspaper, which is the oldest in Bahrain, reported that the authorities informed the editor-in-chief, Anwar Abdul-Rahman, that because of press law violations, they had decided to stop the publication of the paper. However, they did not state the violating article or the type of violation. The government allowed the newspaper to be published again the following day, 23 June.

It is believed that the reasons for withholding publication of the mentioned newspaper, which is closely related to the cabinet of ministers and the prime minister, is linked to an article by Bahraini Shura Council member Sameera Rajab in which she launched a scathing attack against the Shiite religious leaders and the political leadership in Iran.

The chairman of the board of directors and editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Abdul-Rahman, is a Bahraini citizen of Persian origins. The newspaper adopts a clear opposing position to the political system in Iran and to its foreign and internal policy. Usually the criticism is aimed at Shiite religious beliefs and ridicules religious figures and leaders. Rajab was known for her support for the former Iraqi regime and its president Saddam Hussein, and for her writings and seminars, not only against Iran, but against the Shiite sect in Bahrain and their religious beliefs and political figures. In her writings, she often pitted the government against the Shiite sect and stirred sectarian hatred.

Rajab is a Bahraini citizen of Shiite origins, and the king had honoured her by appointing her as a member in the Shura Council, and the Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Salman Al-Khalifa had singled her out from the rest of the reporters and writers with a special meeting. After the meeting, news and photos of the meeting were published in the local newspapers. This was considered a sign of the authority's support for Rajab's extreme positions against the opposition and especially those of the Shiite people.

The BCHR considers the decision to close the newspaper an arbitrary and illegal act. It did not take into account law number 47 of 2002, article 84 regarding the regulation of the press and printing, which states that the Ministry of Culture and Information should have warned the newspaper before taking any action against it.

The BCHR would like to recall the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, and especially article 19 which states, which stated: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, states the same principles. At the same time, the BCHR would like to draw attention to article 20 of the same covenant that states, "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

Based on the above, the BCHR calls for the following:

1. To consider the closing of the "Akhbar Al-Khaleej" newspaper arbitrary and to ensure this actions is not repeated;
2. To stop the punitive decisions that are often made outside of the courts;
3. To stop using political opinion and the press to incite strife and contempt for others or their religious beliefs, and to transmit and implant the spirit of tolerance between people regardless of their religious, sectarian and ethnic backgrounds.

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