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Authorities suspend permits of two foreign correspondents

(BCHR/IFEX) - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expresses its great concern regarding the persistance of the authorities in their campaign to restrict journalists and correspondents of the foreign press and international news agencies. The Bahraini authorities recently suspended the activity of correspondents from certain French and German news agencies.

A news piece published by one of the daily newspapers stated that officials from the Department of Foreign Media at the Bahraini Ministry of Culture and Information held individual meetings on 29 January 2010 with a correspondent of the French news agency, Mr. Mohammed Fadhel, and a correspondent of the German news agency, Mr. Mazin Mahdi, to verbally notify them of the decision to suspend their engagement in the activities represented in providing the abovementioned news agencies with local news related to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The correspondents were not given a formal letter regarding this decision or the reasons behind it.

Government sources that refused to be named informed the BCHR that the reason behind the ban is that both journalists cited a news piece that Bahraini citizens were sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of weapon possession, joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to attack the U.S base in Bahrain.

The Department of Foreign Media of the Ministry of Culture and Information had earlier issued strict verbal instructions for all the correspondents of the foreign press and news agencies to not address any news related to Al-Qaeda or any groups allied with them in Bahrain, but it seems that those instructions did not reach these journalists. The BCHR learned later that the journalists were permitted to engage in their work after publishing the news of their suspension in one of the local newspapers.

The Department of Foreign Media follows the Ministry of Culture and Information administratively, however it overlaps and is linked with the National Security Apparatus (Intelligence) in terms of functions entrusted to it, and it is the organization that issues approvals to the correspondents of foreign press and news agencies. It is currently headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, the former vice-president of the National Security Apparatus, and it was previously headed by the current president of the same Apparatus, Sheikh Khalifa Abdullah Al-Khalifa, and they are both members of the ruling family.

This department exercised a lot of pressure in the last few years on correspondents of the foreign press and news agencies. They refrained from issuing permits to some of them, and attempted to impose correspondents, who are closely associated with the authorities on some foreign channels and international news agencies. It has become rather difficult for any reporter to keep his or her job without having the satisfaction of the authorities.

These restrictive approaches of the government of Bahrain contradict its position as a member in the Human Rights Council and as party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 19 of the UDHR, which states, "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."

Based on the above, the BCHR demands that the Bahraini authorities do the following:

- Allow journalists, correspondents and reporters to engage in their activities freely without, obstructions or restrictions;

- Separate the Ministry of Information from the security apparatuses and allow the foreign press and news agencies to choose their correspondents freely without imposing anyone on them;

- Stop using permits as a way to make journalists and correspondents adjust or submit to pressure.

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