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BCHR condemns attack on "Alwatan" newspaper president

(BCHR/IFEX) - 27 August 2010 - The Bahrain Center for Human Rights expresses serious concern about the increase in acts of violence which come as a result of political and security unrest. This time it comes in an incident of attack that was reported by Mr. Muhannad Abu Zeitoun, chief editor of Alwatan newspaper. This incident took place on the morning of Wednesday, 26 August. Abu Zeitoun claimed that it resulted in a wound in his hand and the burning of a part of his car.

According to the French News Agency, the chief editor of the Bahraini Alwatan newspaper, Abu Zeitoun announced that he was subjected to an attack by anonymous individuals in front of the newspaper headquarters in Rifaa area, south of the capital city Manama. Abu Zeitoun said that a masked man approached him when he was getting into his car at 3 a.m., and asked him if he worked for Alwatan newspaper to which he said yes. He noticed another masked man and was going to him "but the first (man) hit me on the shoulder with a sharp object which caused me to bleed so we wrestled", according to the French News Agency. Abu Zeitoun added that the masked men fled, only to find a fire starting in his car, which was put out.

Background on the Bahrain Newspaper Alwatan, run by Muhannad Abu Zeitoun

Alwatan newspaper, which is run by Muhannad Abu Zeitoun, is regarded as being one of the newspapers linked to the Royal Court, which expresses its political orientations. The newspaper is owned by Hisham Jaffar, one of the Bahraini businessmen who are close to the regime and the supervisor of the projects of the King and his family; but it is believed, and according to some statements, to be owned in reality by Shaikh Ahmed Bin Atteya Al Khalifa, Minister of Cabinet Affairs in the current government, who is also close to the Royal Court. His name was part of the scandal released by the former government advisor Dr. Salah Albandar, in which he claimed that there is a dangerous secret network within the country's governmental bodies that aims for the exclusion and marginalization of the Shiaa sect and to weaken them in the electoral process. The same group also works to incite problems between them and the Sunnis, to sabotage the electoral process, and create GONGOs or breach the independent organizations. The same report stated that Alwatan newspaper had been formed to become the media front for this secret initiative - as it started since its launch in instigating sectarian problems and publicly encouraging hating the Shiaa's and their beliefs. According to the report, this newspaper is supervised and financed by the undersecretary assistant in the office of the head of the Royal Court, who has direct links to the naturalization and changing the population's demographics committee in the Royal Court. Also a part of that committee is the media advisor to the president of the king's court, who is considered the main supervisor of the media group in the secret organization.

In addition, Ali Radhi Hassanain, who is an Egyptian journalist working for the king's court, is also mentioned in the report as being the civil supervisor to the Egyptian media group which was formed and given headquarters as part of the secret organization. In parallel to this newspaper there is a expiatory website and electronic forum which is running with obvious disregard of the ministry of media. It is believed that the same crew that are responsible for Alwatan newspaper also run the website. This website which is called Bahrain Kingdom Forum is expiatory and instigates against the Shiaas, as it works to feed intolerance, religious and sectarian hate and it encourages hating Shiaas. Bahrain Kingdom Forum is run by a journalist and reporter from the above mentioned newspaper and is government funded, and in accordance with the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Information as a part of the media strategy mentioned in Dr. Salah Albandar's report. The report also mentioned that there is a media group with the sole objective of monitoring Shiaa forums and participating in them with pennames to create sectarian splits, fabricate non-existent battles between them, and to plant the seeds of incitement to serve the goals and interests of the ruling regime.

In the year 2006, more than one hundred important Bahraini figures from different religious, political and social sects directed a letter to the King of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, to express their shock over the critical information revealed in the report released by the former advisor to the government Salah Albandar which also revealed the role of Alwatan. Also mentioned in this letter was information related to the objectives of that network that consisted of creating a sectarian split, breaching civil societies and changing the demographics of the country. It also contained information about the governmental officials, persons, bodies and civil societies involved in the network, as well as its formation, how it works and some of its finances. The letter also contained information, viewed as being the most dangerous, which said that there was a main role in the network for officials in the Royal Court.

Government reactions to Albandar Report and the role of the newspaper

As soon as the former government advisor's report was leaked to the press, the political societies and human rights organizations, his house was raided; he was arrested and removed to the UK as he is a British citizen. It is notable that the same report was sent to the king since the beginning of September 2006, except no actions were made in response or any investigations about the network. After that, a case was filed in the Bahraini courts against Albandar, accusing him of harming the country, negatively affecting its image and stealing government documents. The government also prohibited that anything related to Albandar or his reports be published to this day. Anonymous governmental entities through anonymous phone calls threatened human rights activists with sexual assault if they do not stop publicizing and spreading the documents and its contents. Most civil societies have issued statements criticizing the content of the report, in addition to seminars and civil resistance organized by several political societies demanding an independent investigation in the report as well as the role of Alwatan newspaper in instigating the sectarian split the country is witnessing today.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights condemns any attack on a person's safety and life, as it happened to Abu Zeitoun, chief editor of Alwatan newspaper, and regards the attack a violation of human rights, especially the right to life as stated in article 3 in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person". BCHR believes that physical violence is never the right solution for dealing with people with whom you disagree.

BCHR demands:

1. an independent investigation into the incident, to ensure a serious investigation and to present those responsible to a fair trial;

2. that the sectarian instigation campaign be stopped, as well as the defamation of human rights activists that is being done by Alwatan newspaper, and that those responsible be tried in court;

3. that the rumors about hatred between the different sects in Bahrain which is being circulated by the media belonging to the government be stopped, and instead start campaigning for religious tolerance as well as launch channels for discussions about unresolved issues, one of them being religious discrimination.

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