(BCHR/IFEX) - 24 July 2010 - The National Security Apparatus (Intelligence) summoned two female activists from the Bahrain's Women Association for Human Development to question them about the assistance they provided to Al-Jazeera news channel in the production of a TV program about children who are deprived of citizenship in the Arab World. According to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), this is a new precedent aimed at suppressing freedom of opinion and expression, and which demonstrates the authority's refusal to listen to its critics. BCHR also expressed concern about the government's policy to deny children who have a Bahraini mother the right to Bahraini nationality.
The two activists (whose names have been withheld) received two phone calls from the National Security Apparatus ordering them to immediately appear at the Investigation Building. They were not provided with a reason for this or with any information on the subject under investigation. One of the activists demanded that the members of the intelligence services send a summons according to the official protocol, indicating who the summoning party is and the reasons for the summons. Issuing a summons via a telephone call is a violation of legal norms, especially considering that the call was made on 2 July 2010, a Friday, which is the weekly day of holiday for all public and private departments and state institutions.
Besides the two activists, two disadvantaged Bahraini women, whom Al-Jazeera interviewed, were also summoned. The women were among the mothers whose children have been denied Bahraini citizenship.
In May, the Bahraini authorities suspended Al-Jazeera's activities and prohibited the channel's crew from entering the country. The decision came on the heels of a documentary broadcast by Al-Jazeera on 17 May, in the weekly program "Economy and People", which addressed poverty in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
At the time, the Ministry of Culture and Information justified its decision by claiming that the news channel did not respect the laws governing the press sector. The ministry clarified that the suspension would continue until an agreement on a memorandum of understanding outlining the relationship between the ministry and the channel was reached.
BCHR believes that pressuring Al-Jazeera to agree to a memorandum of understanding is an attempt by the authorities to set more restrictive constraints on the television channel, as is the case with other channels, news agencies and correspondents working in Bahrain. This is aimed at maintaining the dominance of the Bahraini authorities and their control over the information sector via the exclusion of all programs that do not correspond to their policies. The Bahraini authorities impose restrictions on foreign channels and news agencies and their correspondents in Bahrain through the Department of Foreign Media. While this is part of the Ministry of Information, it actually operates as part of the National Security Apparatus (Intelligence).
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BCHR recommends that authorities:
* grant civil society institutes the freedom to meet with media agencies in order to shed light on their humane message;
* stop targeting activists of civil society institutes and provide the appropriate conditions for them to carry out their social role to the fullest, without targeting or restricting them;
* lift the ban imposed on the activities of the Al-Jazeera channel and provide an appropriate environment for the press and media institutions to carry out their role freely and independently.