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Journalist faces defamation charges over article on corruption

(BCHR/IFEX) - According to a 26 June 2009 statement, the Public Prosecution (PP) has referred the case of journalist Husain Sabt, who is accused of defamation, to court after reviewing the evidence against him. Ahmed Bucheeri, the Capital Public Prosecutor, stated that the said journalist, without mentioning his name, declined to appear before the PP and hence lost the opportunity to defend himself and refute the evidence against him. The PP further stated that it communicated with the Bahrain Journalists Association (BJA) to call on Sabt, whose name was mentioned in a statement by "Alwaqt" newspaper as being one of its reporters, to appear before the prosecution.

In a statement by "Alwaqt", dated 28 June, the newspaper's management and Sabt denied that they had been approached by the PP in relation with any charge. Sabt and Radhi Al-Mowsawi , head of the local news and then deputy managing editor, were summoned in March before the Capital Police station to issue a statement about a complaint against a report made by Sabt about corruption in the Bahrain Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA). The report was published in the newspaper on 11 March and referred to the resignation of an LMRA official amidst news of corruption and manipulation. This was considered defamatory and, two days after the publication of the report, the LMRA responded in a statement published in "Alwaqt" negating the reasons behind the resignation of the said official.

For its part, the BJA confirmed that, as per the Bahraini Press Code of 2002, its role is restricted to appearing (in court) with the journalists only after receiving the attendance notification from the PP. In a statement, BJA reiterated that it is not legally responsible for notifying journalists of cases against them, nor does it "act as being part of any case against any journalist. All it does is to comply with the law".

The charges in the case filed against Sabt, as with other journalists in Bahrain, are based on the Press Decree Code no. 47 of 2002 and the Penal Decree Code no. 15 of 1976, which have been condemned and criticized, both locally and internationally.

Nabeel Rajab, President of BCHR, stated in this respect:" We are alarmed by the manner in which the case against Mr Sabt was expedited to the court by the Public Prosecution. The PP has grossly violated the Criminal Procedure law of 2002 in forming the case against Mr Sabt without carrying out a basic procedure of summoning him". Mr. Rajab added: "This is a suspicious and prejudicial act by the PP and shows disrespect for Mr. Sabt's right to express his point of view."

The BCHR expresses its deep concern over the deterioration in the level of freedom of expression and journalism and encourages all parties to exert the necessary pressure on the Bahraini Authorities and demand that they respect journalism and freedom of expression. Mr Rajab concluded: "This case shows that speaking about corruption in any official institution in Bahrain is forbidden and subject to prosecution".


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the Bahraini Authorities, urging them to:
- stop harassing and prosecuting journalists when performing their duty by reporting on and analyzing the conduct of public institutions
- amend all legislation, in particular, the Press Code of 2002 and the Penal Code of 1976, to ensure that they conform with the international charters and covenants
- repeal the case against Mr. Husain Sabt and ensure that no reprisals are carried out against him as a result of shedding light on corruption in an official establishment.


APPEALS TO:

Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, King of Bahrain

Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, Cabinet Prime Minister
Fax: +97 3 1 721 1363

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

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