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Columnist suspended after writing articles about demands for democratic reforms

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) is concerned over the continuing repressive attitude towards journalists, writers and columnists in Bahrain. Many of them have been summoned before public prosecutors or the courts for exercising their professional rights in tackling issues of interest to the public. Others have been suspended from writing or reporting by their employers and the editors-in-chief of their newspapers. In doing so, the employers express their opposition to the opinions of some journalists or columnists and assume a position of self-censorship, fearing reprisals from the authorities, sometimes having received direct telephone calls from members of the ruling family or government.

BCHR has learned that Ali Saleh, a journalist and columnist, was suspended from writing in "Albilad" newspaper ( http://www.albiladpress.com ) after his last column was not published. When Saleh noticed that his column was not published as planned in the 15 October 2009 issue of the newspaper, he approached the publication's directors to inquire about his article. He was advised that, based on orders from "high level authorities", he has been "indefinitely suspended" from writing.

The 67-year-old Saleh started his work in the journalism profession when he was 23 years old and his column writing experience exceeds 33 years. He joined "Albilad" in April, writing a column every Wednesday. Earlier, he was a columnist at different times for "Akhbar Al-Khaleej", "Alwasat" and "Alayam" newspapers. According to Saleh, these newspapers stopped publishing his articles or actually "disposed of him" with different excuses, all of them focused on the fact that his writings "did not conform" with their policies. Moreover, he said that "other newspapers, like 'Almeethaq', 'Alwaqt' and 'Alwatan', absolutely refused to accept (him) as one of their columnists".

Based on information obtained by BCHR, the orders to suspend Saleh from writing were issued by Royal Court officials who were displeased with a series of published articles written by him focusing on demands for genuine democratic reforms and reinforcement of the state of law instead of policies of individualism and gestures. Moreover, Saleh has been critical of the "Reform Project" proposed in 2002 to establish a democracy in Bahrain. According to Saleh, "This project ceased to exist after its retraction when the 2002 constitution was passed in an undemocratic way, in addition to the procedures, decrees and developments which brought Bahrain back to unilateral power - the executive one".

Saleh considers his suspension to be "one of the measures taken by the local authorities to muzzle free speech, attack freedom of opinion and expression and prevent criticism and demands for reform, which contrast with the claim that Bahrain is a democracy."

BCHR expresses its deep disappointment over the authorities' lack of tolerance for differing views that expose state violations or are critical of state practices, contradicting what the government is trying to convey through publicity programmes both within and outside of Bahrain. The BCHR calls upon the authorities to respect and uphold international human rights conventions and covenants ratified by Bahrain, specifically those on freedom of expression. In particular, reference is made to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Bahrain in September 2006, which refers to the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression.

BCHR's president, Nabeel Rajab, said, "We are strongly dismayed by this escalation of actions against journalists and efforts to silence dissenting voices. We remind the Bahraini authorities of their commitments and obligations to respect international covenants on human rights". Rajab added, "What makes us most concerned are the constraining orders which come through telephone calls from the offices of top officials. These officials should pay attention and listen to differing views and criticisms in light of their claims of democracy and freedom of expression. The continuing harassment of journalists in this way represents a step backwards and a revival of the old state security tactics. It reinforces the position of Bahrain on the blacklist of countries that violate human rights and freedom of expression (. . .). What happened to Ali Saleh is shameful."


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the authorities calling on them to:
- stop harassing journalists, columnists and writers who express their views on matters of public interest and issues relating to corruption and misconduct
- lift the suspension of Saleh, ensuring that he suffers no reprisals as a result of criticising policies and programmes put in place by the ruling elite.
- cease policies that result in suspension decisions made behind closed doors without any judicial or legal process


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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