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Human rights defenders and independent journalists harassed and threatened

Dozens of human rights groups, including 31 IFEX members, have written to the United Nations to put a spotlight on the Bahrain government's relentless attacks on human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers. Independent journalists have been taken to court for critical writings, rights defenders have been imprisoned, and websites censored. Those under threat include members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).

The letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Navanethem Pillay outlines human rights defenders who are being targeted in retaliation for providing information to international media agencies and NGOs that have then issued statements and reports critical of the Bahrain government's human rights record. The state has also gone after activists with legal action and smear campaigns for giving legal support to victims of government torture or for organising peaceful public gatherings.

Most of the media in Bahrain is state-controlled and government media often discredit human rights defenders by labelling them as "traitors" who receive funds from foreign powers to disrupt the political stability of Bahrain. Authorities also threaten to prosecute and imprison rights defenders when they are critical of the government in meetings abroad.

Attacks on BCHR often escalate as a result of the dissemination of alerts to the world outside Bahrain that document press freedom and free expression violations in the country. BCHR members have been systematically defamed.

The local media do not cover human rights issues accurately and the main sources of information on rights violations often come from the international media, which have also been subjected to harassment and restrictions, such as the recent temporary suspension of two correspondents from Agence France Presse and Deutsche Presse Agentur in January 2010 after they reported on the outcomes of a legal case.

Local journalists are routinely harassed for reporting on issues like corruption or discrimination. In 2009, Mariam Al-Shoroogi, a journalist and columnist at "Alwasat" newspaper, was indicted and fined by the Higher Criminal Court on charges of insulting the Civil Services Bureau after reporting on discrimination. Also, blogs that cover human rights issues are blocked.

The letter urges the UNHCHR to meet with Bahraini activists and journalists and to take up these issues directly with the authorities. It also calls for the end of censorship of thousands of websites, including those of human rights organisations and independent activists and journalists.

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